Monday, February 23, 2009

An Academically Controversial Idea

In a recent blog N. Gregory Mankiw - the author of the Principles of Microeconomics text I am using this Spring semester - discusses how Harvard during this hard financial time - could decrease the high student to faculty ratio, and comes up with three propositions. One is that Harvard administrators could increase the number of hires of economics faculty members and this would reduce student-faculty ratio; two make the economics major more difficult to enter and this would reduce the student faculty ratio; or three hope a well funded donor (an angel) donates lots of money to Harvard for the economics department. Since none of these seem to be likely, Harvard economics majors are stuck with large class sizes.

Yet, there is a fourth way, which for an academic is more controversial. If Harvard increased the teaching load of the economics faculty, this would reduce the student to faculty ratio. Now, I understand why Mankiw did not advocate higher teaching loads - doing so would increase the overall work load of faculty, and not many are advocating working more for the same salary. Yet, if the goal is to reduce student-faculty ratios, this would be the most budget nuetral.

Of course, the rebuttal is that faculty would revolt and some would leave Harvard - which is true, and academic quality would suffer - which is also likely. But again, if the main goal is to reduce student-faculty ratios, I think we have a winner.

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