Dear members and friends of the IU Economics community:
I am writing this letter as the first "back to normal" semester is drawing to a close, much to the relief of all involved, and as faculty, staff, and no doubt students are beginning to look forward to holidays and the break. It was just a short time ago that we aspired to return to normal operation of the campus, and this has been unquestionably a great thing for IU. It was rewarding to find that students (in fact, increasing numbers of them) actually want to be here. It was also interesting to learn that newly acquired habits of taking time to catch up on classes online and not being confined to a classroom during exams are difficult to forsake. So, for many this semester has been about learning to walk again (including literally – to class).
As I mentioned, undergraduate enrollments keep growing in Bloomington, with the Kelley School of Business experiencing particularly impressive growth, the extent of which is apparently a surprise to KSB's administrators themselves, who call the class of 2021 a Godzilla class. This class has brought a lot of "business" to economics: our introductory classes which serve KSB majors are packed as we are working to find the supply-demand equilibrium. I wrote about a major overhaul of the introductory curriculum the department undertook over the last two years. This is an experience-based process that happens in parallel with explosive growth of enrollment. All early indications are that this has been a success and is certainly earning the department recognition it deserves.
In the meantime, the distinct value of an economics major remains our focus. As we know, it always has been about developing analytical skills in approaching problems, or as we often call it, model-based analysis. Matching this with the ability to work with large amounts of data and to apply the expanding power of computational methods has become another distinct strength we offer our students. Hence our logical step to launch a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics, which will provide advanced specialization in econometric and computational methods and the corresponding software. Our B.S. degree is currently going through the standard approval process and is on track to start operating as of next fall, in parallel to our existing B.A. degree. However, the classes forming the advanced core of the B.S. are already being taught, so the major is ready to roll! Notably, our B.S. major will be classified as a STEM degree, which offers many students some additional flexibility in non-major coursework as well as in the job market. Our recently launched M.S. (also STEM certified, as is our Ph.D. as of last year), of which I wrote in the last issue, offers students an opportunity to build the same set of skills at a more advanced level. It is making good progress and I expect to be able to report on it in our next issue.
One of the required but very pleasant aspects of going through the approval process for our new B.S. degree was soliciting feedback from employers to sample the sets of qualifications they are looking for when hiring college graduates to ensure an appropriate match with our B.S. major curriculum. Among employers we contacted were several of our relatively recent Ph.D. graduates who are excelling in their careers in the "real world". This expansion of the job market for Economics Ph.D.s. is a relatively new and growing phenomenon (besides the financial industry and not counting the Federal Reserve System and other governmental institutions who some consider a part of the "real world") which attests to the rising value of the skills economics has to offer the data analysis-driven job market. We plan to share with you more information about career success of our Ph.D. graduates, outside the academy in the next issue. In the meantime, our new cohort of rising Ph.D. graduates are in full force on this (almost) post-pandemic job market this academic year.
I think this all adds up to the great dynamic in the department, and on the right track at that! I am glad to say that this is not just my perception and was strongly affirmed as a conclusion of the External Review of the department. This is a once in seven to ten years event in the life of a department spearheaded by the College and aimed at evaluating performance, challenges, and strategic plans. A large part of the past semester was devoted to our planning for the event and then the visit in November by the External Review Committee representing leading and peer economics departments. The Committee issued its conclusions and recommendations to the College Dean which will be instrumental to our strategic dialogue with him, planned to occur in the near future, about the support for the department's development, particularly faculty hiring. Again, this is something we will be ready to discuss in more detail in the next issue.
You are getting a sense that this has been a very intense semester for us. Yet, its best moments that stand out for me are the interactions with you, including meetings, both virtually, as is the norm now, and in person, a rare treat these days. I am always impressed and humbled by the sincere desire to support the department I always see from you, our dear alumni and friends. Some examples of support that I find especially heartwarming are those associated with honoring the memory of our former colleagues. This is because I was fortunate to overlap with the previous glorious generation of our faculty over my 30-year career at IU (when I started here in 1991, I had a pleasure of meeting many who were by then retired). I would like to take this opportunity to thank Frank and Cathy Witney whose generous support will allow us to launch the Fred and Judy Witney Seminar Series in Labor Economics in honor of Frank's parents. As you read in the previous issue, we are preparing to establish the Elmus Wicker professorship funded by Elmus's former student, the late Scott Thatcher. In the next issue (which I keep advertising), we will be in a position to share some great news about the upcoming significant support of our Ph.D. program made possible by IU Foundation's matching funding in honor of another one of our late colleagues.
We deeply appreciate all of your support and hope to be able to welcome more of you back on campus soon. Please accept my colleagues' and my best wishes for the holidays and for a happy and healthy New Year!
Professor and Chair