Defend Diversity of Economic Ideas: Reappoint Lecturer Summa at the University of Vermont
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“John’s strength as a teacher is well known by all in the Student Affairs Division of the Dean's Office. He is a strong, caring and knowledgeable instructor who takes genuine interest in his students. – Patty Corcoran, Associate Dean, UVM College of Arts and Sciences.
The field of economics is in an existential crisis. Mainstream economics has been unable to offer viable long-run solutions to today’s problems: the tendency toward economic stagnation, the increasing frequency of financial crises, widening inequality and environmental degradation. Yet undergraduate and graduate economic classes throughout the world continue teaching standard models that have become largely discredited, abandoned by even some leading members of the mainstream tradition.
Lecturer John Summa is one of the brave economists that questions the conventional models inside the classroom. By teaching students alternative branches of economics, Lecturer Summa is empowering future economists to think about the economy in a more complete manner. But despite Lecturer Summa's popular standing among students and excellent teaching record, the University of Vermont (UVM) has refused to renew his teaching contract. This denial of reappointment took place despite a unanimous 5-0 vote by UVM’s own independent Faculty Standards Committee, which reviewed his case.
As a former student of Lecturer Summa, I was shocked and upset when I heard that the University was not renewing his contract. I was deeply influenced by his ability to present alternative economic perspectives. Lecturer Summa did not try to convince me of any single point of view. Instead, he encouraged me to think critically about economics, and therefore, decide for myself what to believe. Please join me in signing this petition that demands the University of Vermont reappoint this valuable teacher. Stand with Lecturer Summa, because voices like his need to be heard, but are becoming fewer in number just when we need them the most.
“I found John to be a perceptive and self-reflective student of teaching. He was experimenting with some interesting games…getting students out of the classroom for projects, and teaching creatively in general.” – Alec Ewald, Former UVM Honors College Interim Associate Dean
“Professor Summa encourages his students not to passively accept what is taught to them, but to ask questions and be skeptical. His classes taught me to approach readings and research with a critical eye, and made me more able to build well-thought out, defensible arguments.” – Sophia Billias, William Gerston Award Winner, UVM Class of 2015
- University of Vermont
- Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
- UVM President
David V. Rosowsky
The Department of Economics at the University of Vermont used to be different. Not too long ago, UVM embraced teaching mainstream economics alongside alternative economics. Unlike other departments throughout the world that taught mainstream economics exclusively, UVM had an understanding that teaching students multiple perspectives would only strengthen them to face the economic, political and environmental challenges of the future.
Then, the department began to change. First, Professor Ross Thompson passed away, one of the leading figures of alternative economics at UVM. Shortly after Professor Elaine McCrate retired. Thus, two figures that were essential to maintaining a department open to alternative ways of seeing the economy were lost. There are only three remaining alternative economists in the department: Professor Shirley Gedeon, Professor Stephanie Seguino and Lecturer John Summa. Now, the department is refusing to renew Lecturer John Summa’s contract, despite an independent panel approving his reappointment 5-0, which would make him the third alternative economists to leave the department in less than two years.
Lecturer John Summa is at the forefront of new economic thinking. His classes on the History of Economic Thought, the Global Financial Crisis and International Economics empowers students to understand economics holistically. By teaching these classes, Lecturer Summa continues the UVM tradition of exposing students to different views of the economy. Without Lecturer Summa, UVM would resemble so many other departments that uncritically teach students mainstream economics. While once UVM was a symbol of tolerance and coexistence of economic ideas, denying his reappointment is an example of silencing voices that question mainstream economics.
As a previous student of Lecturer Summa, I created this petition to reappoint him. The petition received over 500 signatures in just over a week thanks to the support of students, alumni and community members. Over 500 people knew the value of keeping Lecturer Summa. I hope that the University of Vermont will be among them.
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