The Teagle Discussion on Re-evaluating the Undergraduate Economics Major
Edited by David Colander and KimMarie McGoldrick
Chapter 17: Preserving Liberal Arts Education: A Futile Endeavor
Brendan O’Flaherty The difficulties that US liberal arts colleges are facing may be a little deeper than Dave and KimMarie make them out to be in Chapter 1, and the challenges may be correspondingly more interesting. Colleges (not necessarily disciplines) may have to change a lot more than they think they should, and this change will be for the better. Two trends are driving a lot of what is happening in the economics profession, and both of them are working against the traditional US major: globalization and technological change. These are trends that economists talk about affecting other people all the time; but they also affect us. First, globalization. Economics graduate education is now an international enterprise. Students in the top universities come from all over the world, and so do the faculty. Students of any one nationality, including the US, are now a minority (and a large proportion of US students are immigrants or children of immigrants). This has created a wonderfully diverse society. It’s nice to step out into the hallway and see, for instance, a Bulgarian, Chinese, Israeli-Arab trio, all friends, joking with each other. The problem for traditional liberal arts education in the US is not that international students aren’t good teachers; the problem is that they have different options. Occasionally, US students win our teaching prizes, but usually it’s the international students – probably more often than their representation among teaching students. And many international students think about big questions. What sets them apart from Americans...
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