Ec Majors Can Do Higher Math

AN entrepreneur with the foresight to sell T-shirts saying, "I survived Ec 1011" could have made a fortune off the course's victims from the last two years. Last week's decision by the Economics Department to remove the course from its list of honors requirements will make the lives of future concentrators much easier.

As can be expected, however, those for whom the change comes too late are somewhat bitter. Aside from disappointing Ec 1011's graduates--who naturally wish that future generations should endure the same torture--the decision to remove the rigorous second year theory class is counterproductive to the goal of teaching Economics.

As the system stands, concentrators must take one of the department's intermediate level courses dealing with micro-and macro-economics. Ec 1011: "Micro- and Macroeconomic Theory" treats the subject matter with higher math than Ec 1010, which has the same title. Two years ago the department decided to require that honors concentrators take Ec 1011 and many have suffered lower grades and general confusion as a result.

According to Lecturer in Economics Jeffrey Wolcowitz, the reason for dropping this requirement now was that "there was some sense that the more rigorous course was probably too difficult for a lot of the students in it."

This is more of a commentary on the Economics Department than on its concentrators. It is simply not the case that Ec 1011 students cannot, or refuse to, learn the math. Rather, the truth is that the professors and section leaders who have taught the course in the past have never taken the time to introduce math.

Past criticisms of 1011 have been directed primarily at the attitudes, not the quality, of the teaching staff; teaching the course has been a chore for these professors. Why can't the department find a faculty member--tenured or not--who enjoys the material and wants to teach it, rather than burdening a tenured professor or making it a requirement of a soon-to-be reviewed junior professor?

More troubling is the fact that concentrators must take two semesters of science in the Core, but need not understand calculus--a tool essential to modern economists. How can the Ec department pretend that an honors degree in the concentration is truly "honorable" if most students who receive one don't know how to take a derivative?

It doesn't seem likely that this change will actually attract more concentrators to the department. Instead, it will simply allow those students already planning to major in Economics to pursue an easier course of study. This development directly contradicts the wiser move of three years ago to tighten the requirements for economics, which was often accused of being a gut major.

All students naturally tend toward the path of least resistance. It follows that the vast majority of future honors concentrators will substitute Ec 1010 for the more difficult 1011. By allowing this, the department is diluting the value of an honors Economics degree.

Better alternatives could have been chosen. The first would be to include the appropriate mathematical tehniques as material in 1010. A second, more drastic measure, would be to require that every honors Economics concentrator pass a Math 21a: "Intermediate Calculus" final, whether they have to take the course or not. Instead of trying to maximize the size of the department by making Economics a popular, and easy, concentration, the faculty should ensure that honors students are qualified, well-educated scholars in their field.

If the department were to shore up it standards and focus more attention on the flaws of an important course in the basics of the discipline, students would get more out of the department--and the department would get more out of its students. Ec 1011 may be difficult, but it should remain a requirement of honors concentrators if they truly want to become qualified in the field of study they have chosen.