It was all very civil. At a meeting last Tuesday, the Economics faculty tabled a curriculum committee's recommendations urging the integration of Marxian theory into the department's graduate curriculum.
The committee, chaired by Kenneth J. Arrow, professor of Economics, had suggested that courses be taught on the relationship between society and economics, as well as the hiring of people qualified to teach this field from coherent alternative perspectives--meaning in substance a Marxian perspective.
New courses in the area may be offered next year, but James M. Duesenberry, chairman of the department, said this week that all positions had been filled for next year and that there was "zero chance" of hiring people to fill the two proposed slots.
Few had really expected any other atmosphere or any other outcome.
The department's conservatives believe that social theory has no place in the primarily quantitative approach to economics taught by most Harvard faculty. A moderate faction, roughly equal in size, is amenable to the inclusion of social theory in the curriculum, but only on a nonideological basis.
The department's liberal faction--called liberal because all but one of the Marxian economists are nontenured and thus are excluded from most of the department's important decision-making--are in favor of implementing the recommendations roughly as they were offered to the department in the Arrow Committee report.
Arrow talked earlier this year about leaving Harvard to accept a teaching position at Stanford, reportedly for mostly personal reasons. Although he later decided to remain at Harvard for now, Arrow said that he had not ruled out reconsidering his decision next year.
While there is no evidence that Arrow is using his indecision as a negotiating tactic, he doesn't explicitly have to. The department cannot preemptorily reject the committee's recommendations without the risk of offending Arrow.
For another reason, too, Arrow is at the center of the department's current problems. He is the youngest of the department's great individualists, men such as Simon S. Kuznets, Baker Professor of Economics Emeritus, Wassily W. Leontif, Lee Professor of Economics, and John Kenneth Galbraith, Warburg Professor of Economics, on whom much of the department's reputation has long been founded. But Kuznets has retired, and Galbraith and Leontief are in their sixties.
Arrow ranks among these figures as a man who has pioneered a new field of economics. At the age of 52, he is not a man Harvard can afford to lose, and it may be this fact alone that could give the committee proposals a most serious airing in the next few months.
"There is zero chance that the Arrow Committee proposals will be implemented by next year, particularly the one recommending the hiring of two instructors to teach courses on socio-economic problems." James S. Duesenberry, chairman of the Economics Department
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