Chris Blattman

Why your economics and politics professors seem to have so little time for you

This is the ratio of BA majors to faculty in private universities with ranked programs:

The graph comes from a new article in the JEP by William Johnson and Sarah Turner. Political Science seems to be the big outlier, with economics and psych not far behind.

The meshes with my experience: poli sci has become the largest major at Yale (even more so since the crisis) and we cannot hire fast enough–almost 8 junior faculty offers per year for at least three years.

Part of the explanation could be that econ, psych and poli sci are more easily taught to large groups (i.e. a more efficient technology) but I find that hard to believe.

The authors find some evidence that it’s because econ professors are more expensive:

But here again we see the poli sci outlier.

The whole paper is good. Their conclusion: it’s all politics.

All the more reason for so many new political scientists?

3 Responses

  1. This misallocation of faculty across disciplines resulting from the political economy of higher education is not only a problem for quality of education but is also a problem for graduating PhDs seeking academic positions. If university administrators had greater incentive to allocate faculty lines according demand, rather than in response to rent seeking professors in smaller departments, then PhDs in disciplines such as economics and political science would realize the greater job opportunities that they should have as a result from greater student demand for their knowledge.

  2. econ and psych can be easilty taught to large groups, but it takes away a lot of the fun of learning it and also compromises the learning itself. I took an econ lecture freshman year, but because it was so impersonal it was hard to motivate yourself to learn and the professor, likewise, didn't feel much need to explain better. Then I took a small intro-econ seminar and the experience was radically different – I learned more and enjoyed it.

    should we sacrifice good/intimate learning for more technological lecture courses with fancy powerpoints?

Why We Fight - Book Cover
Subscribe to Blog