Deadweight Loss

The end of economics junior seminars is a move in the wrong direction

Junior seminars in economics have become the latest victim of the university-wide financial crisis. These 16-person seminars were some of the only small undergraduate courses taught by the department’s faculty. Now that they are gone, face-to-face interaction with a professor is a reality for only a handful of students in the College’s largest concentration. We strongly object to the elimination of this program and implore the department to make every effort to find a viable alternative to make up for the loss of these seminars.

The economics department is perennially plagued with abysmal satisfaction ratings and high student-to-faculty ratios. With its more than 700 concentrators,, one might expect that such a behemoth of a department would enjoy a plethora of resources to accommodate its army of young economists. But this is not the case. Even before the elimination of the program, most economics concentrators were blocked from the seminars due to the small number of spots. Therefore, the loss of the junior seminars is symptomatic of a larger problem with the department’s inability to educate its students in a manner comparable to the smaller concentrations.

Seminars are perhaps the best way for undergraduates to actively participate in the community of learning that the university is supposed to provide. When seated at a small discussion table (though it can be argued that even 16 students is too many for a true seminar experience) students have the opportunity to build close relationships with prestigious faculty. Sitting face to face with Professor Greg Mankiw is very different than watching him lecture from the nosebleed seats in Sanders Theatre in Ec 10. In addition to enjoying a more personalized and active experience, seminar participants can satisfy the concentration writing requirement and gain the writing skills needed to prepare juniors for their senior theses.

It is laudable that most of the erstwhile junior seminars were not eliminated entirely, but instead opened up to function as traditional lectures. However, it is undeniable that the benefits of a seminar course will still be lost. Ultimately, the elimination rather than expansion of the seminars marks a move in the wrong direction that highlights the unfortunate effects of reducing faculty hiring.