Dear members and friends of the IU Economics community:
This issue of Trendline is being produced in the most unusual of times. A silver lining in the experiences of the past year is that they have taught us to value connection with friends and helped us learn new ways to stay in touch and in many cases to be able to reach even more friends than before the pandemic. So, we are putting together this issue with thoughts about you and hopes that you and your loved ones are doing well. As always, this is an opportunity to report on our own progress.
As a new-old chair of the department (my previous term was in 2011-15), I have succeeded my colleague Gerhard Glomm who completed his glorious tour of duty this summer. No, at the time when I agreed to serve, I had no foresight of the turn of events. I am very proud to say, however, that our wonderful faculty and staff have shown remarkable resilience and ability to quickly and effectively adjust to the new challenges. As we know, the education system, including higher education, was shocked and disrupted by the pandemic from its very beginning. The adjustment was costly to everyone: students, instructors, and staff; but I think that we, here at IU Economics, have shown our evolutionary fitness. Many of our faculty and graduate instructors were well equipped to handle the technological transition and, furthermore, shared their prowess with their more challenged colleagues. The transition to the largely online instruction mode was a time-intensive experience for everyone, but I think that it’s not too early to report that we’ve done it. This would not have been possible without our excellent staff who had to handle all the new challenges, from supporting off-campus work, to resolving the head-spinning new challenges faced by students, to helping us adapt to the uncertain and often mutually contradictory regulatory environment.
Speaking of the evolutionary pressure on the higher education system: we can probably expect that the changes in instructional technology are only the beginning of a deeper disruption, as the experience is likely to trigger a re-evaluation by many students and families whether and what kind of college education they need. As you may know, IU and many other leading public universities have so far weathered the storm surprisingly well. Our College of Arts and Sciences, in particular, has even shown substantial growth in undergraduate enrollments. Notably, the lion’s share of this growth has been due to the growth in economics classes, especially the introductory economics and statistics sequences taken by business and economics majors. The enrollments in these classes far surpassed our planned capacity, so we had to scramble to meet the demand, while subject to the notorious operating principle of “doing more with less”. This has all been happening as we are simultaneously going through a major curricular overhaul of these classes aimed at connecting them with up-to-date student needs, experiences, and motivations; for instance, increasing the exposure to the analysis of strategic behavior and data-driven applications. I think it’s not overly optimistic of me to expect that the high value economics education has always had (I know that I am preaching to a friendly audience here) will only grow resulting from the ongoing re-evaluation of a college education.
On this note, we have been making important investments in the higher-end undergraduate curriculum to enhance our students’ analytical and computational skills, including those driven by economic data. Our important recent undertaking is the launch, two years ago, of the new M.S. degree in Economics (see https://economics.indiana.edu/graduate/ms-degree.html), which focuses on the Economics of Financial Markets as well as the applications of Game Theory. The program is intended both as a stand-alone option and an opportunity for IU economics undergraduates who wish to top off their economics education with the most advanced skills valued in the job market. The technical sophistication of our graduate programs, both Ph.D. and Masters, was recognized by their official STEM designation as of this fall (you can read more on this in this issue).
As you will see in this and upcoming issues of Trendline, the department is on an upward trajectory in its research and teaching missions, undergraduate and graduate. We are meeting many new challenges in each realm, and I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about two new faculty leadership roles making this dynamic possible. Prof. James (Jimmy) Walker is our new (first ever) Associate Chair. Jimmy has played all possible roles in the department’s leadership over the years (including as chairperson), so thankfully he agreed to take on the new one. He is bringing all his experience to bear across the spectrum of our challenges, but his primary focus is on our strategies in the undergraduate programs, where the need for renewal has never been greater. I am excited to report that Paul Graf has agreed to serve in our new position of Teaching Specialist. His role is to ensure continual supervision of the progress of our doctoral students in all of their instructional roles.
I hope that I have been able to convey the sense that IU Economics is alive and kicking and that you can remain proud of your alma mater. We deeply appreciate all your support and hope that the time when we’ll be able to welcome you back for a visit is not far away. Please accept my colleagues’ and my best wishes for the holidays and for a New Year that is happier, healthier, and overall better.