More Than the Bear Necessities
Lesson number one: don’t judge a class by its title. Economics 1391, “Economic Growth and Development,” is much more than its banal name would indicate. Both the class and its professor, visiting professor from Columbia University Xavier Sala-I-Martin, are not at all what they appear to be.
Even at first glance, it’s evident that the Barcelona native is not a stereotypical economist, typified, as he says, by “a dark suit and boring tie.” During his FM interview, Sala-I-Martin sports an orange blazer and coordinating Halloween-themed tie.
Sala-I-Martin extends his quirkiness to all aspects of his life, including his teaching. “I try to make class as fun as possible,” he says. Case in point: This Disney fanatic has created a series of problem sets centered around Disney movies. The first assignment was about The Jungle Book, and Sala-I-Martin has since moved on to The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. When students go to the Economics 1391 website to download the problem sets, not only do Mowgli, Ariel and Simba pop up on the screen, but the respective theme songs play in the background. “Problem sets need not be boring and dry,” Sala-I-Martin explains. His students agree. “The problem sets really are fun,” says Cristina M. Valverde ’06, “but everything he says in class is even more hysterically funny.”
This cartoon obsession extends beyond the problem sets. “I like cartoons in general,” he says. On his personal website, Sala-I-Martin has a WB theme. That is confusing, he says, in his line of work, because many people confuse “Warner Brothers” with the World Bank. That coincidence in initials is amusing to Sala-I-Martin because, he says, “People in World Bank resemble cartoon characters very often.”
This Disney buff’s favorite movie is The Lion King, but his favorite superhero is Wil E. Coyote. “I like the bad characters in general,” Sala-I-Martin says. “Jafar is my favorite, but Scar is pretty cool too.” Long ago, he decided that he would name his child after the villain in the Disney movie released the year in which he or she was born. As potentially foolish as this may seem (who wants a child named Shere Khan?), he and his wife were blessed with a baby girl in 1989 whom they proudly call “Ursula.”