Professor John Munro passed away on December 23, 2013. This site is maintained and kept online as an archive. For more infomation please visit the Centre for Medieval Studies
Professor (Emeritus) John H. Munro passed away December 23, 2013
Department of Economics,
University of Toronto
150 St. George Street
My Home Page: freely accessible to everybody.
Updated on: 6 August 2013
COMMENTARIES ON THE STATUS OF ECONOMICS, ECONOMIC HISTORY, AND HIGHER EDUCATION IN NORTH AMERICA
ON ECONOMICS AND ECONOMIC HISTORY: especially in Academia
- "The Profession and the Crisis": Paul Krugman's 2011 Presidental Address to the Eastern Economics Association
- NEP - HIS Blog : New Economic Papers and History Blog: Discussions about the latest research in business, economics, and financial history.
- J. Bradford DeLong, 'Economics in Crisis', The Economists' Voice, 8:2 (2011), article 2 (19 Jul 2011): asking the question: 'Have economists forgotten
what they once knew about financial markets?'
- Paul Krugman's New York Times column on "How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?": a related commentary from the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, in a
column published in the New York Times on 6 September 2009, on the then current world-wide financial crisis. He states: "Few economists saw our current crisis coming, but this predictive failure was the least of
the field's problems. More important was the [Economics] profession's blindness to the very possibility of catastrophic failures in a market economy." [My comment: this is one of the reasons why we study economic
- Why Economics Needs Economic History: by Professor Kevin O'Rourke (Professor of Economics, All Souls, Oxford), as published in The Irish Economy.
- On the Status and Future of Economic History in the World: a statistical survey and
commentary by Professors Jôrg Baten and Julia Muschallik (University of Tübingen, Germany),
undertaken in co-operation with the International Economic History Assocation. You will note that the results for Canada are
very dismal (thus reinforcing my obligation to keep economic history alive at the University of Toronto).
- Economists' Opinions: Other opinion pieces and blogs by Krugman, Stiglitz, and other liberal economists. Warning! Note my own left-of-centre political biases: I will not post blogs by any right-wing commentators (but I
will not exclude rational non-liberals, if they make a sound economic case).
ON CURRENT PROBLEMS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
- The Trouble With Online College': an editorial in the New York Times, 18 February 2013.
- 'Let's Unplug the Digital Classroom': by Douglas Mann (Professor of Sociology, University of Western Ontario), published in the Toronto Star
on Saturday, 6 October 2012: the problems encountered in having too much internet and other digital access in the classroom.
- "The Trouble With Online Education": New York Times, 19 July 2012: by Prof. Mark Edmundson, University of Virginia. Note both of my courses are available online (in full); but I would never recommend taking these courses in this fashion. Students need
personal contacts with their professors: to see the overhead slides, to ask questions in class, or at least to listen to class discusssions. In the past some older students, unable to come to class because of work
commitments, have taken my course 'on line' -- and, so far, all of them have failed the course. There is no substitute for personal attendance. See also the more recent and related op-ed piece by my Political Science colleague, Prof. Clifford Orwin,
in the Globe and Mail, Sat. 18 August 2012: There's no online substitute for a real university classrom.
- Is College Too Easy? As Study Time Falls, Debate Rises': from
the Washington Post, 21 May 2012.
- Top 10 Mistakes When Writing a Research Paper": from Questia (12 Sept 2011)
"One in Three Ontario Profs Assign Fewer Essays": by Louise Brown, in the Star,
15 September 2010. Why increased class size and chronic underfunding has led to this serious decline in academic standards. In my view, the single most important benefit that students can derive from a course
in Arts and Science is the experience of writing an essay: collecting evidence, evaluating conflicting opinions, using logic and facts to construct a coherent argument, and gaining experience in communicating
your ideas in a cogent and convincing manner: an experience that will last you a lifetime. See the next blog on declining academic standards.
- Declining by Degree: Will America's Universities
Go the Way of its Car Companies?": in The Economist, 2 September 2010. One
of the most disturbing passages is the following: "As costs soar, diligence is tumbling. In 1961 full-time students in four-year colleges spent 24 hours a week studying; that has fallen to 14, estimates the AEI
[American Enterprise Institute]. Drop-out and deferment rates are also hair-curling: only 40% of students graduate in four years. The most plausible explanation is that professors are not particularly
interested in students’ welfare. Promotion and tenure depend on published research, not good teaching. Professors strike an implicit bargain with their students:
we will give you light workloads and inflated grades so long as you leave us alone to do our research." Another study links this situation to the introduction of student course evaluations in the 1960s,
inferring from the collected evidence]that to gain higher evaluations professors reduced work loads and began inflating grades. Another possible reason may be the increase in student part-time employment during the academic year
and a consequent lack of time for study; and that rise in part-time employment is obviously related to rising university costs: of both tuition and residence (discussed in this article).
- But see the full study cited: "Leisure College, USA:
The Decline in Student Study Time", by Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks (August 2010), which is
also available online via The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research". It disputes this hypothesis,
concluding that part-time employment has had a very small impact on
the reduction in student study hours. It primarily blames falling academic standards and the perverse effects of student course evaluations (as explained above), stating that:
"We are hard-pressed to name any reliable, noninternal reward that instructors receive for maintaining high standards--and the penalties for doing so are clear."
- College the Easy Way: an op-ed column by Bob Herbert in the New York Times:
5 March 2011. More comments and analysis on the same dismal topic!
- "Am I Interesting Enough Yet?":
Professors try to be engaging, but students have to meet them in the middle". Article appearing in Macleans Magazine: 23 August 2010. While I do not excel in being a stand-up comedian, I hope to make
my lectures and this course interesting -- to students who are interested in both economics and economic history.
- Where all that money is going:
article in Macleans's Magazine, 18 Jan 2010: documents -- from Canadian university data -- a marked downward shift in operating expenditures on classroom education: from 65% of total operating funds in
1988 to 58% in 2008, on average in the top 25 universities in Canada (certainly at the U of T). Much of that financial shift has gone, not to research, as one would suspect, but
instead to bureaucratic administration!! For the top five universities (U of T, UBC,
Alberta, McGill, Montreal) the cutbacks on classroom education average $45 million per year (?) ($35 million within the G13 group of universities). That is despite an overall growth of university expenditures
from $6 billion in 1987-88 to $21 billion in 2007-08.
"Significant New Costs Loom for Students": by Michael Geist (Canada Research Chair in E-Commerce Law,
University of Ottawa), in the Toronto Star: Monday, 13 September 2010: why copyright fees (AccessCanada) have made course reading packages so expensive. Copyright fees can account for over 70% of the cost of a course reader.
- Whatever Happened to Tenure?:
an article by Stephanie Findlay, in the 17 January 2011 issue of Macleans.ca
with the subtitle: 'The Backbone of today's university is the ill-paid, overworked lecturer.'
When I joined the Department of Political Economy (now Economics) at this university in 1968,
virtually all courses were given by tenured or
tenure-stream professors; now that is true for only about half of our courses. There are many reasons for this very sad state of affairs, which is universal in major universities across North America.
The principal one is a combination of persistent underfunding and market forces (i.e., to pay high salaries to attract talaneted scholars). Technically, I myself
am a lecturer, with only annula contracts, since my tenure status ceased with my mandatory retirement, in 2003. But 'don't cry for me, Argentina', because I have a very ample pension and teach only because I want to
do so (and teach what and as much as I want to teach -- I would teach more, another course, were it not for my own concerns about achieving research objectives in the relatively few years left --since I am now in
- "International Rankings Success for the U of T"
: some offsetting good news, from the University of Toronto E-Bulletin. See
the sources from The Times Higher
Education Suppplement (UK): World University Rankings, 2010-2011 -- we are no. 17 in the world; and
Higher Education and Accreditation Council of Taiwan":2010 Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities, which ranks us no. 9 in the world
-- ahd of Oxford, Cambridge, London, Yale, Duke, Cornell, etc.
- Wide Web of Diversions
Get Lap Tops Banished from Lecture Halls. On Tuesday, 9 March 2010, the Washington Post newspaper published an interesting article entitled
about steps that various American universities have taken to prevent students from using their laptops (with all their diversions) in
class-rooms. See what you think! I do not intend to ban them from my class-room, however! Indeed, I note that very few students use laptops in class (and all are welcome to do so).
- The Shadow Scholar:
The Man Who Writes your Students' Papers Tells his Story: from the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Tuesday, 23 November 2010.
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