U is first to receive feminist

Ken Eisinger

The University is the guinea pig for a feminist economics class that spans nine Universities, 10 professors, and thousands of frequent flier miles.
Wednesday was the third instalment of the course which runs through winter and spring quarters. Eight guest professors from across the country and two University professors are teaching the course in its inaugural year.
Julie Nelson, a guest professor from Brandeis University, delivered a lecture Wednesday at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute to more than 50 feminist economics students, professors and members of the public. Nelson’s lecture criticized traditional economic models for overlooking women and children and oversimplifying discrimination in the workplace.
Assistant Professor of Public Affairs Deborah Levison is one of the two University professors teaching the course. Levison said the course is unprecedented.
“It’s not that uncommon for people to bring in speakers for courses, but this idea of the speakers being the faculty, that’s quite different,” she said.
Feminist economics has another innovation as well: it travels. The guest professors will offer the course at a different university every year.
Because feminist economics is a relatively new field, the plan is for the eight guest professors to impart their knowledge to the University faculty, as well as students. The local faculty will continue to teach feminist economics and the number of experts in the discipline will grow.
“When we leave, there should be a good reading list and a good background of knowledge on the part of the staff,” Nelson said.
Levison said the course format is “a useful idea for new, growing areas that don’t have established people in different schools all over the country.”
First-year Humphrey Institute student Dana Bourland said the material in the course adds a new perspective to economics.
“All my other classes use mainstream economics as a model,” Bourland said. “Here, I’m being confronted with the inadequacy of those models.”
Nelson’s lecture addressed many inadequacies in traditional economic theory.
Citing economists’ inability to provide reasoning why women’s salaries average 30 percent lower than men’s, Nelson criticized economic hypotheses which attribute this wage gap to women being exhausted or having maternal obligations.
“I think there is a substantial role for out and out labor market discrimination,” Nelson said. “People do still hire based on race and gender.”
As it is being taught now, the course is divided into four month-long units. There are two visiting professors during each unit. During the first week, the students read background texts. The following Wednesday, a guest professor delivers a lecture which is open to the public.
The next morning, the guest professor leads a seminar for the class. Guest professors also assist with grading papers and hold office hours.
Levison intends this course to push the boundaries of economics and to make economics more useful.
Levison credits Susan Feiner, one of the guest professors, with the idea of feminist economics as a traveling course. In May 1995, Feiner gave a lecture at the Humphrey Institute on the exclusive nature of economics as a discipline that catered primarily to men.
Levison said Feiner’s lecture met with strong agreement that economics was unfriendly to women and people of color.
Feiner wrote a grant proposal to the Ford Foundation which decided to fund the course and lecture series.
“It came here first because this is where Susan was inspired to have this idea,” Levison said.