The Economics Department is undergoing an informal, internal curriculum review this year to improve the structure and content of the undergraduate major, department chairman Chris Udry said.
The department held an open meeting with undergraduates earlier this month to discuss students’ concerns, including course offerings, senior seminars, introductory requirements, senior essays and faculty advising, Udry said. Udry, who took over as chair this fall, said he wants to use his first year in the job to make the department even stronger, and student feedback will play a vital role in reaching this goal.
Udry said limited faculty resources — a problem which is being addressed by seven ongoing faculty searches — are at the core of many student concerns.
Economics major Rachel Schechter ’07, the chair of the department’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, said she has been taught by more visiting professors than ladder faculty during her time at Yale. Given the large number of undergraduates in the major, she said, the department should have a more substantial budget with which to accommodate the needs of the students.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said the budgets that departments receive are negotiated annually between the department chair and the relevant deputy provost.
Schechter said the lack of resources is particularly a problem for seniors trying to enroll in a required senior seminar, because fewer seminars are available in economics than in other large departments such as history.
Economics major Richard Ludlow ’07 said he did not have any trouble getting into the seminar of his choosing. Students feel more limited by the kinds of seminars offered rather than by the number of seminars, he said.
“As long as you start making an attempt in your junior year and you’re not too picky, [it’s not difficult] because there are some seminars that don’t fill up,” he said. “I do think some students feel as though there aren’t as many seminars in topics that they would like.”
For example, Ludlow said, many students are interested in finance-related seminars, but there are usually only three offered. He said the approximately 45 slots do not come close to accommodating all of the students attempting to get into them.
But Bert Ferrara ’07 said the problem is not simply a lack of finance classes but the absence of appropriate prerequisites for those courses. He said like many other economics majors, he is using the major as preparation for a Wall Street job, but the department does not offer courses on key skills for the finance profession. Ferrara said he would like to see the department replace the econometrics requirement, which he called a “dead-end course,” with classes on the “building blocks of finance,” like accounting.
“We have a lot of seminars with a finance bent without them really teaching accounting, and you can’t do finance without accounting,” he said. “[Finance-related seminars] become ‘Accounting 101’ for at least a month, and for someone like myself who has done accounting at a pretty high level, it becomes kind of frustrating.”
Schechter said she believes the department could benefit from a more varied topic selection that explores the field from an interdisciplinary perspective. She said the current course selection presumes that “you’re either an NGO-Save-the-World type or you’re an I-banker.”
“Why can’t we have interesting classes?” she said. “There’s a lot of interesting things happening in the world of economics — there could be classes on the economics of China, economics of oil, post-Katrina economics.”
Udry said he also thinks the introductory courses could be evaluated in order to give students more of an option in the sequences of classes that they must take.
But despite her concerns, Schechter said, when she worked on Wall Street over the summer, she realized that there are many ways in which Yale economics majors stand out, even among students who receive highly technical training in the field.
“Where we shine is that we get it,” she said. “We get the concepts, we get the ideas, we have a liberal arts education, and I think that’s something to be proud of.”
According to the University’s Office of Institutional Research, in 2005-’06, Economics was the third-most popular major among Yale undergraduates with 147 students. The most popular major was History, with 196 majors, followed by Political Science with 188.