Occupy Harvard? Students Protest Class by Famed Econ Prof With a Walkout

Harvard students and community members gather in front of John Harvard statue in solidarity with the Occupy Movement and Occupy Oakland (Image: The Harvard Crimson)

Greg Mankiw is a well-known Professor of Economics at Harvard University and a leading mind in the area of “new Keynesian” economics (a theory that tries to apply an understanding of individual behavior to the Keynesian school of thought). From 2003 to 2005 he was the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for the Bush administration and he is also an economic adviser to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Suddenly, he has also become the target of a Harvard “Occupy Speakout” demonstration. What did he do to draw this kind of attention? The Daily Mail headline sums up the accusations: “Did a Harvard economics class cause the financial crisis?”

In an effort to show their support for the Occupy movement, 70 Harvard students decided to stage and publicize a walkout of Mankiw’s EC 10 class.

In conjunction with the walkout, they also penned an open letter to Mankiw, claiming that “his conservative curriculum has influenced former Harvard students – including today’s policy makers and bankers – to bring about the financial crisis.”

One man did all that?

Watch the walkout (courtesy of The Harvard Crimson):

But their criticisms did not end there. The letter also claims that he “does not include primary sources and rarely features articles from academic journals, [so] we have very little access to alternative approaches to economics.”

Very little access?

The letter continues:

We found a course that espouses a specific – and limited – view of economics that we believe perpetuates problematic and inefficient systems of economic inequality in our society today.

We are deeply concerned about the way that this bias affects students, the University, and our greater society.

However, not all of the Harvard students were on board with the demonstration.

“When the students got up to leave, some of their peers booed,” reports the Daily Mail.

Once they had exited the classroom, the protesters gathered outside the building to continue their demonstration. One of the organizers, Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash, said to her fellow demonstrators: “Harvard graduates have been complicit [and] have aided many of the worst injustices of recent years. Harvard students will not do that anymore. We will use our education for good, and not for personal gain at the expense of millions.”

She also accused Mankiw of pushing a “strongly conservative neoliberal ideology.” She said, for example, that she thought lectures promoted conservative views against minimum wage, reports The Harvard Crimson.

Mankiw seemed more amused than upset by the protest.

“The class is very conventional economics. Adam Smith is pretty non-controversial among economists. But it can seem pretty conservative the first time you hear it,” Mankiw said in a recent CNN Money article.

“The economics profession has been implicated, by some people on the left, as a reason for recent developments,” he continued. “So I shouldn’t have been too surprised that we ended up one of the targets.”

The protesters disagree with his personal evaluation of the course.

“I think a more diverse viewpoint needs to be raised,” Sandalow-Ash said. “The problem is that in an introductory course, what the professor says is generally taken as fact,” she said.

Again, some students think that the characterization of Mankiw’s class as “biased” is unfair.

“The class is about pure economic efficiency. Ideology comes into play when we determine how to balance efficiency with social equity,” Harvard Republican Club Secretary Aditi Ghai  said in a The Harvard Crimson report.

What does Mankiw say about his course?

“The goal of economics is to help people evaluate the inevitable tradeoffs that public policy entails,” said Mankiw. “While I do not share the specific views of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I am delighted to see students engaged in thinking broadly about social and economic policy. I hope that Ec 10 can help contribute to [that] ongoing discussion.”

Speaking of “ongoing discussion,” here’s a question: If an honest, truth-seeking student disagrees with a professor’s theories, wouldn’t it be better for the student to discuss and argue their ideas with the teacher rather than stand outside? It seems the former would be more conducive to helping the student arrive at the truth whereas the latter is mostly good for getting attention.

“I’m disappointed the students will miss the lecture,” Mankiw said. “I think the material is something they’d actually find interesting.”

Indeed they might have.

Fox declared the walkout a major “miss” on the students part.

Read the open letter here.

(h/t Newser)