Stay in School

Protesting a class’s ideology damages free academic discourse

The Occupy movement has become known for its many, and often contradictory, faces. Now we can add a new group of faces to that list—Ec 10 students.  Students in the popular introductory economics class walked out fifteen minutes into the class yesterday in a gesture of solidarity with the Occupy movement and to protest what the event organizers consider a class that promotes a “strongly conservative neoliberal ideology.”  We find it troubling that students would protest a class because of its supposed ideological bent at an institution dedicated to academic integrity.  Such an action sets a dangerous precedent of ideological discrimination against professors.

While it is true that Professor N. Gregory Mankiw, who was lecturing during the walkout, has conservative views and held a position in the Bush Administration, we take issue with the claim that his class is inherently biased because he is the professor and author of its textbook.  The truth is that Ec 10, a requirement for economics concentrators, provides a necessary academic grounding for the study of economics as a social science. Professor Mankiw’s curriculum sticks to the basics of economic theory without straying into partisan debate.  We struggle to believe that we must defend his textbook, much maligned by the protesters, which is both peer reviewed and widely used.

Furthermore, the students protesting the class who desire that he give more time to other, less accepted schools of economic thought—like Marxism—would do well to remember that such interrogation is the domain of social theory, not economic theory. Supply-and-demand economics is a popular idea of how society is organized, and Mankiw’s Ec 10 never presents itself as more than that. As such, including other theories would simply muddy the waters of what is intended; Ec 10 is an introductory class that lays the foundation for future, more nuanced, study.

That being said, even if Ec 10 were as biased as the protesters claim it is, students walking out to protest its ideology set a dangerous precedent in an academic institution that prides itself on open discourse.  This type of protest ignores opposition rather than engages with it. Instead of challenging a professor to back up his claims, it tries to remove him from the dialogue.

Furthermore, the students’ attempt to connect their classroom protestations to the Occupy movement illustrates the disjointed and often unfocused nature of the movement.  Indeed, it seems ironic that students in an introductory economics course at Harvard feel that by walking out of their completely optional lecture taught by a famous economist on the theme of income inequality feel that their actions ought to be considered a sign of solidarity with the Occupy movement.  Such protests don’t show solidarity, they show ignorance and a lack of self-awareness.