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Economics newsletter: faculty notes

Econ E-blast April 3, 2011

Dr. Richard Ballman: retiring in phases

On the college web site faculty members are listed by department along with their ranks and pedigrees. Were you to go there you’d find my rank is "Phased Retirement Professor." Huh? Consequently, Joanna asked that I write a few lines explaining what the hell this means.

To start, it seems to suggest that one in this position no longer would have to write silly pieces for a departmental newsletter. But, since I generally don’t do what I don’t want to do anyway (e.g., ceremony) that seems to be irrelevant.

So here’s the story. In effect, like Douglas MacArthur’s old generals, I’m fading away. Five years ago the dean developed a phased-retirement plan. Faculty who met certain requirements based on age and years of service were invited to opt in. Over a four-year period they would gradually teach fewer classes. Compensation would be a pro-rated amount based on annual salary in the last year of full-time service.

Though my acuity isn’t what it once was, I figured I could still stand up to and challenge undergraduates; or, as they say, the job doesn’t involve a lot of heavy lifting. Nonetheless, I found two compelling reasons to accept the offer: January and February. My wife, who at the time was the resource manager of the Rock Island Arsenal Garrison — a job that did require a good deal of heavy lifting — decided to retire in the fall of what was my first year in the phased-retirement program.

The first course to get axed because of my reduced load was "History of Thought" (my favorite class, though I realize that sentiment is shared by few, if any, alums). Thus, it was fairly easy for the department to work out a class schedule that excluded my involvement in the winter term. My wife and I have spent the first two months of the last two years in Fort Myers.

This year, my third in the program, I’m teaching three classes — "Intermediate Macro" in the fall, two "Micro-Principles" in the spring — for three-sevenths of my 2007-08 salary. I’m scheduled to teach three classes again next academic year and expect to do so, though I suppose I could dissolve this contract unilaterally if I chose.

The original plan called for my replacement to be hired for this year; but the dean pleaded poverty and refused to give Joanna the go-ahead to list the position. This year, however, she got the authorization to search for my replacement. The upshot: most likely I’ll be here next academic year and, with certainty, that will be it.

Dr. Christopher Marmé: looking for the right person

This year, the Economics Department has had the difficult task of finding a worthy successor to Dr. Ballman.

We set out to find someone who has a dedication to teaching, a clear appreciation of the liberal arts (or at least a keen interest and a willingness to learn), and areas of expertise that complement our own. In particular, an expertise in environmental economics, public choice theory, or game theory/experimental was considered a plus in our search, as we hope new courses in these areas might be viewed as most relevant to our students.

We were pleasantly surprised when our want ad attracted a flood of applications. It probably helps that few colleges have been hiring permanent faculty in the last few years. In any event, we were very pleased with the quality of the applicants. Several would have been very good hires, and ultimately, we landed our first choice!

Keva Steadman is joining us in the fall. Her areas of expertise are environmental/energy policy, econometrics, and macroeconomics. We'll introduce her further in the next newsletter. While we are very sad to see Dr. Ballman retire, we are excited at the prospect of introducing someone new to the Augustana community.

Dr. Joanna Short: curriculum transition

The department’s curriculum is in a bit of a transition period, as we have adjusted to Ballman’s reduced teaching load, and look forward to a new hire. One necessary change was that we could no longer offer "History of Economic Thought," since neither Marmé nor I are particularly expert in that area.

However, we have come up with a compromise: in its place, I now teach a course in my main area of interest: "U.S. Economic History." Like the history of thought class, "U.S. Economic History" is reading and writing-intensive and required of senior majors. The goal is to gain a better understanding of select topics from U.S. history, in order to better understand current events.

For example, one main unit covers the Great Depression. When I first designed the course in 2008, my intended focus was on the causes of the Great Depression, and the question: “Could it happen again?” The Great Recession of 2008-09 coincided nicely (pedagogically, at least) with our class discussions. This is still bearing fruit as we continue to examine causes, consequences, and stimulus efforts in the two periods.

Another recent curriculum change: We have dropped the senior seminar series, and in its place are requiring "Development Economics" for the major. This is largely due to a logistics issue: It is difficult for two full-time faculty (while Ballman is phasing into retirement) to offer three one-credit seminars. We’d like to re-examine this, and potentially bring the seminars back once we have a new faculty member on board.

In the meantime, we thought that majors should take two senior-level courses in our main areas of expertise: Development and Economic History. These courses also lend themselves well to integrating insights from the intermediate theory and statistics classes into applied problems.