Business School lectures need more diversity

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I received many gifts from Mercer over the past four years, such as amazing friends, wonderful professors and enlightening experiences.
Today, I want to highlight a fourth gift: critical thinking. This ability is one of the most important hallmarks of higher education. Unfortunately, I’m worried that the decision of both the business school’s student leaders and faculty to only support extracurricular lecturers of narrowly-defined philosophies inhibits critical thinking, and is contrary to the ultimate goal of higher education.

A particular trend becomes obvious if one attends the extracurricular economics lectures throughout the academic year—all were extremely supportive of libertarian philosophies and/or the Austrian school of thought. Not only that, but lecturers presented controversial issues as black-and-white matters with, of course, their perspective portrayed as the champion.

Students left these lectures with the impression that entire schools of economic thought were completely invalid, despite the fact that a large proportion of American economists support some Keynesian policies, such as fiscal stimulus. While I respect scholars’ substantiated assertions in controversial matters, a line is crossed when they imply to undergraduate students that no such controversy even exists, or do not even mention opposing opinions in their analysis of the issue.

For example, when Dr. Lawrence White lectured on the Hayek-Keynes debate, he only spoke in support of Hayek. For an extracurricular lecturer, this is perfectly acceptable. However, he did not mention any theories which opposed his own point of view, especially those regarding the gold standard.
The only times he spoke of Keynes, he mocked the late economist’s ego (which was admittedly large, but that is beside the point), rather than discussing his actual policies.

Instead, he utilized Paul Krugman (of whom I am no fan) as a straw man. (Krugman is an economist who very obviously and purposefully politicizes and oversimplifies economics for his newspaper column). If White seriously wished to consider opposing viewpoints, he should have discussed the writings of actively academic, and, in this case, useful Keynesian critique. I left the lecture feeling as if I had attended a political stump speech for Hayek, instead of a serious lecture.

I don’t think Dr. White should ever be muzzled, as I unequivocally support free speech, but I do wish to publicly criticize his methods, which are more politically than educationally motivated. However, I must return to my original point.

This year, (and to my knowledge in recent past years), the business school has not brought a pro-Keynesian economics lecturer, or even a moderate speaker who has criticized libertarian philosophy or the Austrian school, both of which are numerically and traditionally fringe categories of economists. While I have no doubt that the faculty of the business school has the student body’s best interests at heart, (I suspect they support these ideas, and wish to further disseminate them), their actions are inhibiting the students’ minds rather than developing them.

I do not make this assertion because I believe parts of libertarian philosophy and Austrian school policy to be flawed, (I do, but that is, once again, beside the point). Rather, I believe that presenting only one side of any issue is detrimental to mental development and contrary to the purpose of higher education.
If professors believe that libertarian and Austrian stances are correct, they should bring serious, credible lecturers to publicly debate both sides of the issue, and then allow students decide on the validity of each stance for themselves.

Otherwise, students remain in a high school state of mind—partisan automatons, never forced to question their core beliefs. If the faculty does not offer more balanced lectures, they are, on this specific matter, failing their students and acting against what Mercer stands for—an education that allows students to think independently.

In conclusion, I wish to preemptively counter what I believe will be two common objections to this opinion. First, while I realize that these lectures are extracurricular and therefore not required events for students, most professors offer substantial extra credit for attending them. By creating an incentive system that entices students to attend, they are partially responsible for their attendance. Therefore, they hold partial responsibility for the effect of the lectures on students’ educations.

Second, I should note that a majority of economics lectures, if not all of them, are funded by a small number of organizations, namely the Liberty Fund and Koch Foundation, both strongly libertarian organizations. If these types of lectures are more often scheduled because these private organizations provide funding for them, (therefore relieving fiscal strains on the department), then one must reconsider their role in the academia.

For obvious reasons, the amount of money supporting political and economic philosophies should not dictate their prominence in the academic setting.
Both politicization and the desire for academic glory already distort and reduce the efficacy of debate between schools of thought. The injection of fiscal inequality only aggravates this problem.

By flooding an academic subject with ideologically-driven money, and therefore studies and conferences, scholars are surrounded with others who agree with a single ideology, resulting in intellectual insulation from serious and fundamental challenges to that ideology or school of thought’s core tenets. To help remedy this problem, perhaps the department can contact organizations from the other side of the political/economic aisle and request funding for speakers. Keynesians, too, have large pockets.

Our professors, who are all extremely intelligent lecturers, can participate in debates with them as to spark the student body’s interest.
What should be clear is that I am not interested in limiting the availability of libertarian or Austrian school-related information on this campus. I am only attempting to equalize speaking rights for what is, on this campus, a minority position.

In fact, doing so must never require the limiting of information for one side; such action sets a dangerous precedent. Instead, it should only necessitate a little extra effort and open-mindedness on the part of students and faculty. Alas, if I were not graduating, I would attempt to amend this inequality myself by starting a new student organization. Instead, I must call for both returning students and the faculty of the economics department to take action. I am confident they agree with my central point—the ability to critically think is more important than the proliferation of any political or economic philosophy.

Comments, questions or concerns about this column can be sent to sean.r.kennedy@live..mercer.edu

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