University of Glasgow economics lecturer move sparks row

Decision to move senior lecturer off core module raises further concerns about economics teaching in universities

April 29, 2016
Man upset by economic downturn
Source: Alamy

An economics lecturer whose teaching material has been described as “too radical” has been stopped from teaching a core degree module, leading to claims of further erosion in the pluralism of economics degrees.

Students on social science degrees at the University of Glasgow take compulsory courses in economics for their first two years. One of the second-year modules in macroeconomics has been taught by senior lecturer Alberto Paloni, an expert in post-Keynesian theory. 

A recent Royal Economic Society newsletter specifically cited this as an example of a degree “that successfully incorporate[s] pluralist approaches to teaching economics”, where students “are made aware of how different perspectives employ different approaches and reach different conclusions, and ask[ed] to evaluate critically how well theories explain empirical evidence”.

But although the module proved popular with students, Dr Paloni has now been relieved of his teaching responsibilities for the second-year course.

The case has been taken up by the Rethinking Economics “international network of students and citizens working together to transform economics education for the better”. It cites an email by Christian Ewald, Glasgow’s head of economics, in which he states his commitment to “pluralism in economics” but refers to Dr Paloni’s own lecture material as “too radical…and what I would describe as ‘inciting rebellion’”.

A spokeswoman for the university said: “We regularly review our teaching arrangements, and the decision to reassign Dr Paloni came as part of this normal process. We are engaging with our students to explain why we have done this, and remain open for further discussion. The university is committed to providing a variety of teaching perspectives at every level.

“Dr Paloni contributed teaching to a core level-two course. The curriculum there is unchanged. Dr Paloni will be developing an honours elective course covering post-Keynesian and other approaches to economics, his area of expertise.”

Calum Mitchell, the communications officer for Rethinking Economics, said that the case followed that of Devrim Sakir Yilmaz, lecturer in macroeconomics at the University of Manchester, who in 2014 responded to student requests for changes to the curriculum to incorporate non-mainstream economic theory. When his course Bubbles, Panics and Crashes was rejected by the university, he offered it instead as an optional out-of-hours module.

When he failed to have his contract renewed, this led to a backlash and a drop in student satisfaction levels of 21 per cent, with one complainant objecting to “such a broad subject being taught in such a mind-numbing and narrow way”.

“Economics as a body of knowledge is failing to create stable economies,” Mr Mitchell said, “but it is also not fit for purpose for those who go on to become policymakers, journalists and bankers…It’s not that neoclassical economics is wrong, but it would be improved by a plurality of approaches and looking at where they succeed and fail.”

matthew.reisz@tesglobal.com

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