Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rotator Cuff Surgery

I will have a procedure to fix my right shoulder on September 21, a Friday.  I'm not quite sure how the following week will go.  If I'm on strong pain medication, teaching may be difficult.  If it's only over the counter stuff, then I think I can manage.  So I thought I'd alert the class so we can plan for some alternative if I will be drugged up that next week.  (Canceling class without any substitute activity might make some students happy, but it is below my bar for a reasonable alternative.)  In any event, we should discuss this when it gets closer to the actual date.

Please be careful this weekend.

From: Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise []
Sent: Thursday, August 30, 2012 2:16 PM
To: Everyone
Subject: MASSMAIL - Possibility of Dangerously High Water - Please Register for Emergency Alert Messages

Dear members of the campus community:

The National Weather Service is predicting that the remnants of Hurricane Isaac could drop as much as 10 inches of rain on the Champaign-Urbana area. If you have not already done so, please register for the campus emergency messaging system, Illini Alert, at

Also, when the storm arrives, please use caution when traveling around campus. High water can be extremely dangerous. Although street crews are clearing drains in the community, heavy rains often cause temporary - but dangerous - flooding in the campus area.

If you are planning to attend this weekend's athletic events, please know that the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics department is closely monitoring the weather and will alert fans of any changes in schedules, and is prepared with evacuation plans for athletic facilities. Visit for the latest information.

Have a safe weekend, and thank you for registering at


Phyllis M. Wise
Vice President, University of Illinois
Chancellor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What's good for the goose is good for the gander

Since I'm asking you to blog on a weekly basis, I will try to do that too, though nobody is giving me a grade for it and my compensation for the course doesn't depend on it.  I believe that a good part of teaching is modeling, so my aim in these posts will be to model - style-wise mostly, perhaps content-wise too.  Then it is also true that the previous label, about extending the class session, doesn't help much if we haven't yet discussed the issue at all face to face, so I need a label to make posts that are new to our discussion.

In this first post about the course I want to do a few things:  (1) talk a little about my philosophy in regard to what economics to learn, (2) pose an issue about what to do when the class seems divided, and (3) give a little direction about the next two weeks so you can better focus your efforts.


One possible approach to teaching an econ course is to take the point of view of true believer - I love economics so you should too.  Having co-taught some core courses, I know some of my colleagues would argue that you should teach as a true believer even if you aren't one in your inner being and if you have some serious criticisms of the profession as a whole.  The argument for this is that students are too immature to take a more nuanced view.  If instead of true believer one offers an approach with both affirmation of economics and criticism of it, the worry is that students will pounce on the criticism and use it as an excuse not to learn the affirmative parts of the subject.  To the extent that students are immature (and adults too are immature more frequently than they care to admit)  there is validity to this position.

Nonetheless, it is not the way I want to teach because it is not the way I think.  So I will offer both affirmation and criticism and quite frequently I won't feel it my job to resolve the muddle.  It is only my job to show you that there is more than one approach to think about an issue.

Here is a concrete example to illustrate.  The week after next we will talk about M&R chapter 2 and consider seriously their hypothesis (they didn't invent it, but do they do articulate it) that economic efficiency is an important goal of any organization.  We will spend some time on that and on the math of what economic efficiency means.  But then I'd like us to consider various critiques.  One quite practical and close to home criticism can be found in this essay by Michael Berube, written in the late 1990s, but quite relevant for now.   Berube is now a Professor at Penn State (unfortunately for him, he holds the Joe Paterno Chair in English, or something else with a similar name) but he was a faculty member on our campus when he wrote that piece.  Berube argues that Universities should not be efficient.  Is this just a language thing - with a reinterpretation of words  he would argue for efficiency?  Or is it more than that and if so does it suggest that other organizations also shouldn't be inefficient?  How would M&R respond to Berube?  How would I respond?

Readings other than the textbook

While from a pure ego point of view I want you to think of my course as quite signficant, truthfully I think it more important that you develop the habit of independent reading on your own, so my main goal of introducing pieces of that sort (the Berube piece is from the Chronicle of Higher Education - not some economics journal) is to encourage that sort of reading habit and to encourage the intellectual disposition that if you read something that disagrees with the position your hold, that disagreement offers an opportunity for learning.

In this particular case, at the time of the Berube piece I was leading an organization involved in Online Learning and we were engaged in Efficiency Projects, so Berube's critique had some personal aspects to it.   On the one hand I felt assaulted by the piece.  On the other hand, and you should judge yourself by how our course is conducted, I've embraced some of the ideas he advocates for in the piece, updated to our current circumstance.

I can't consistently pick outside readings that have such an intimate history with me, but I will try through the remainder of the semester to choose provocative pieces that I hope will engage you and encourage you to think harder about what we are studying.

Next Week (and beyond)

At this point the survey has 14 responses, and that doesn't include me testing it out.  Do note I take it seriously.  I believe in the student voice impacting what the class does.  However, knowing the evidence doesn't necessarily suggest a unique way to proceed.  Particularly on the question of doing economics only or a mixed approach, the results are:

Stick with economics approaches to organizations.
Do a mixture of non-economic and economic approaches.
Do a mixture of non-economic and economic approaches.
Do a mixture of non-economic and economic approaches.
Do a mixture of non-economic and economic approaches.
Do a mixture of non-economic and economic approaches.
Stick with economics approaches to organizations.
Do a mixture of non-economic and economic approaches.
Do a mixture of non-economic and economic approaches.
Do a mixture of non-economic and economic approaches.
Do a mixture of non-economic and economic approaches.
Stick with economics approaches to organizations.
Do a mixture of non-economic and economic approaches.
Do a mixture of non-economic and economic approaches.

So at present the majority is for a mixture but there are a few who want to stick with the econ only approach.  In part, but not in full, this question was asked as an indirect way of getting at whether people know what they are voting for and why they do so.  I could have taken one extreme or the other.  On the one hand, economics is becoming more interdisciplinary, either as a a matter of survival or because other disciplines offer perspective economists are interested in.   So other approaches are interesting in the same way Berube's piece is interesting.  Can we reconcile that with what we are already talking about or not?  On the other had, economics is about taking a certain method.  Does the method get lost if we start to ask certain questions that the method is ill suited to answer, which is likely to happen if we bring in other disciplines?

The Bolman and Deal book, which I am requiring and unabashed about that, has reframing in the title.  Their approach suggests that as a manager or as a leader there is a loss of perspective by considering only one frame.  I think that remains true as an economics student - particularly when asking the question: why did the organization do x?  A lot of good economics is positive - it explains what happened.  But as a discipline economics doesn't have a monopoly on offering up explanations.  Things happen for non-economic reasons, on occasion, perhaps more frequently than that. My view is not to dismiss those alternative explanations, a priori.

For example, one of my big things is the issue of intrinsic motivation - which is mainly curiosity.  Can you discuss economic incentives without considering intrinsic motivation?  I don't think so.  Can you ignore economic incentives as long as intrinsic motivation is present?  I don't believe that either, at least not as a long run proposition.

Let me leave with one last point.  There is a tab on the Web site about comments.  Of course you are free to comment on anything on the site.  But I would especially appreciate comments about posts with this label, so I can learn whether what I've written resonates with you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

From my own blog - a post about teaching economics.

From time to time I'll want to say something more about what we discussed in class.  I will then use this label for that purpose.  Since we haven't met yet, the label is somewhat inappropriate, but I thought you might find the piece I excerpted and linked t interesting as background for the course.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Under Construction

While the bulk of the site should be ready for the first day of class, modifications to the site will be made during the first couple of weeks as certain things get pinned down.  Do note, in particular, that the pace at which we proceed will be jointly determined by the class, so the subject matter for a particular class session will only be set about two weeks before the actual meeting. Therefore calendar entries, in particular, may be changed with some regularity.

Start of Semester Survey

Please Review Site - All Tabs

There is a lot of information on the site.  Please go over it all at your earliest convenience.  We will cover some of it, but certainly not all of it, during the first class session.