Two major educational journals have rated MIT's graduate economics instruction higher than Harvard's in "effectiveness of program." A recently-released report conducted in 1970 by the American Council of Education found Harvard equal in faculty quality to comparable universities, but second to MIT in the quality of education it offers.
Similarly, in 1975 the American Economics Association picked up the ball, alleging that MIT was first in program quality, with Harvard dropping to fifth.
E. Cary Brown, professor of economics and chairman of the economics and chairman of the economics department at MIT, admitted yesterday that Harvard posed "MIT's most severe competition" in graduate economics instruction. "I doubt," he said, "that our curriculum is very different from Harvard's on paper." He added that most graduate economics schools boast similar programs of econometrics, micro- and macro-economics and economic history.
What makes the difference between Harvard and MIT--what gives MIT a higher rating than Harvard--is, in Brown's opinion, the amount of attention paid to students by the faculty. "We give more attention to our students," said Brown. "Our emphasis is on teaching, rather than research--unlike Harvard."
Dwight H. Perkins, professor of Economics at Harvard and chairman of the department here, disagreed yesterday with Brown's view of the case. He argues that MIT "has a different situation from ours. MIT is primarily a graduate school in economics--there aren't many undergrads. For that reason, they can afford to devote more personalized attention to students," he said.
In fact, 65 undergraduates at MIT major in economics, making it one of the university's smallest concentration; by comparison, some 600 Harvard undergrads have chosen the soft science as their field, thus ranking it the college's largest enrolled major.
In addition, Perkins argues, Harvard boasts a much more diverse program than MIT. Two of the Harvard graduate faculty are Marxists whereas, in Perkins' view, MIT has "very few" radical economists on its faculty. Perkins added that he believes MIT focuses on a narrow neoclassical interpretation of economics, while Harvard tried to "see the limitations of that particular theory."
Several graduate students interviewed at MIT found fault with the narrowness of the program, however. Thomas R. Bailey '76, a second-year student, said that "what you get taught is not particularly broad. In terms of interest, there's no serious teaching of radical economics."
He added he believes the faculty at Harvard was probably larger and broader than MIT's, judging from his own experience as an undergraduate.
Charles Cahn '77, a first-year student at Harvard's graduate school in economics, said he was "satisfied" with the teaching. He added that the annual $5000 prize for instruction, set up three years ago by John Kenneth Galbraith, Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus, had done much to "recognize good teaching in the department." Graduate students sit on the committee to choose the preferred teacher each year.
Whether MIT or Harvard is better in terms of economics graduate schools, then, is no easy question, and depends a great deal on one's sources. As Perkins was quick to add, "Sure, eight or nine years ago, due to the nature of the late, '60s we certainly had problems with teaching and morale. But it would be wrong to impute those same problems to us nowadays, thus overlooking all the substantial improvements we've made since then.