Over the summer, 28 Swarthmore students were notified that Professor Philip Jefferson had been appointed as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty at Davidson College, leading to the cancellation of their Intermediate Econometrics class, EC 35, as well as EC 15, Economic Poverty & Inequality. For replacing EC 35, which is a prerequisite for EC 135, the economics department suggested University of Pennsylvania’s Introduction to Econometrics (EC 104) class and Haverford College’s Introduction to Econometrics (ECON H304) as alternative classes that similarly have statistics as a prerequisite.
EC 35 at Swarthmore was known among economics students as a rigorous class. Most students take Introduction to Econometrics, EC 31, which is a requirement for all economics majors, and introduces foundational statistical methodology. EC 35 builds upon that with more mathematically-intensive statistics that are specific to the field of economics.
“I think it was more suited for those who are interested in like, research or grad school. Because although we spend the first half of the class doing simple linear and multiple linear regression, the latter half of the class was focused on methods that are more specific to economics, for example, difference in difference methods and panel data methods, heterogeneity, and I felt like those topics would only come up if you’re reading research papers or interested in pursuing econ research,” noted Lauren Chung ’20, who took the class last fall due to her intentions to take research-based seminars this year.
According to Professor Stephen O’Connell, chair of the economics department, the econometrics classes offered at Haverford and Penn, even though they are known as “introduction” classes, are almost identical to EC 35 in terms of rigor and content. “The key is that we need a class that has stats as a prerequisite. Our structure here is that EC 31 is a prerequisite for EC 35. So, it means that our EC 35 is not an intro econometrics. So, the course that people are taking over at Haverford is an equally demanding econometrics course that has those prerequisites in stats, and similar in Penn. They would have an intro stats or intro economics class that looks like our EC 31,” noted O’Connell.
The unexpected news of Professor Jefferson’s departure in June, however, resulted in many students having to modify their schedules during the summer.
Frankie Dillon ’21 had a lot of trouble figuring out how to fit the Haverford class into his schedule as well as how to get to Haverford for the actual class.
“Because the way the shuttles run, the earliest shuttle to get me there to not miss class would get me there an hour early. And the earliest shuttle leaving that I wouldn’t have to leave class early for it would keep me there an hour late. So, the first week, I was basically waking up at 7 a.m. to get [a] 7:30 shuttle to get me there at eight for nine o’clock class. And then it’s the same thing on the other end. So, I would have been stuck at Haverford for an extra four or five hours every single week,” explained Dillon.
In fact, four of the Swarthmore students who are attending the class at Haverford are carpooling. As a result of these inconveniences, most of the students that registered into EC 35 did not end up taking the classes at Penn or Haverford this fall.
“A classmate [from Swarthmore] and I interned at UChicago this summer; we lived in the same apartment at the time. We had both previously signed up for the class, so this change affected both of our schedules. In particular, my classmate simply could not attend the Haverford class due to other required classes,” said Jorge Tello ’20. His roommate was Lyla Kiratiwudhikul ’20, a senior who planned to take EC 35 to satisfy her honors track requirement.
“I would go to Haverford, but it conflicts with two of my computer science classes. As a result, I am taking Stat 21 instead. I really wanted to take the class too since it paired with Econ 135 [Advanced Econometrics], a class I planned to take as honors preparation,” Kiratiwudhikul said.
Before the school year started some students affected by the cancellation of EC 35 attempted to start a petition.
“We wanted to know how the Economics department arrived to the decision not to offer the class. More specifically, had they attempted to find someone else to teach it? Our reasoning was that Professor Daifeng He would be teaching the seminar in the Spring, so maybe it would make sense for her to teach the intermediate class as well this fall. Our plan was to write to the department and ask if Prof. He, or someone else, was available to teach it,” explained Tello. The petition, however, failed to gain traction.
Professor O’Connell, however, understands the burden this has been to students.
“We tried to hire someone temporarily. It’s not very easily done in the very short term like this. You don’t have lead time,” said O’Connell.
Furthermore, he revealed that the school has brought in an external committee that is currently auditing and evaluating the economics department. This is a common process departments undergo to develop their curriculum. An idea the committee suggested is the possible creation of a class that, in terms of content and difficulty, would be in between EC 31 and EC 35. According to Professor O’Connell, this would potentially attract more students and allow different professors to teach it. Nonetheless, the economics department hears the students and are working on solutions to bring back the class.