A Generation of Political Economists: Part II of the History of the Department of Economics
By Eugene Wagner - 2000
Dr. Bob Brazelton joined the Department of Economics at the age of one year. I know this because we worked together for thirty-eight years and I never heard him claim to be older than thirty-nine. In the last issue of this newsletter I gave the department's history from the forming of the University of Kansas City, UKC, to about 1960. It makes sense to now record in brief the department's history to the 1990s, the time of retirement of Dr. Bob, and Drs. Ross Shepherd, and Ken Hubbell and the appointment of the new faculty noted elsewhere in this Report.
In the early years of UKC, the Department of Economics was one of merit. Then, very quickly in the late 1950s, things fell apart. Eugene Altschul retired. Arthur Billings moved to Indiana State in 1960. Walter "Mike" Wagner, a favorite teacher of many, accepted an appointment at the College of the Pacific in 1961. A School of Business Administration was established which successfully competed with the Department for students. In 1961 the Department was a faculty of one, Dr. John Hodges, with only ten majors. John, as many are aware, was the first Ph.D. student of C.E. Ayres of the University of Texas, and, strongly committed to the doctrine of Ayresian Institutional Economic theory. The Ayresian view also dominated in the newly founded School of Business. In 1961 Prof. Hodges submitted a request for the Department to transfer to the School of Business. The Dean objected. The Dean and the Chancellor also objected to the high salary offers required to hire new faculty in the Department, $7,500 to $8,000. There also was concern for the "singular theoretical perspective" of the Department. Last, but by no means least, there was friction within the College faculty and the College and University Administration regarding the General Education requirements of the College.
In 1962 I was awarded a faculty appointment. Dr. Hodges taught the Institutional courses and the policy courses and I taught the theory classes. The following year, 1963, Dr. Robert Brazelton joined the faculty. He was, and remains, strongly committed to Keynesian theory, based more on Keynes' General Theory than the neo-classical IS-LM perspective of Hicks and Hansen. In 1963-64 under the guidance of Chancellor Carlton Scofield UKC became an affiliate of the University of Missouri and the Department and the College entered an era of growth in faculty and in student numbers. In 1960-61 the faculty of the College numbered 55. In 1965-66 it numbered 117. Despite the years of difficulty the department remained committed to offering an evening Masters of Economics program and a day and night program for undergraduate students. The Department also was committed to supporting the General Education program despite the Dean's reservations regarding the merits of the program. Meeting these many commitments was a full time job for all of us.
In 1965 John Pool did a brief stint as a faculty member before accepting a Fulbright appointment at the Autonoma University in Guadalajara, Mexico. Don Bartholomew also, for a brief period, held a faculty appointment. By June 1967, with the addition of Joe E. Brown who had joined the department in September 1966, the Department numbered six full time faculty members. Professor Brown arrived on campus with a strong committed to introduce a program of urban studies at UMKC. Unfortunately during his many years on the faculty there never seemed to be sufficient funds provided to create a full blown urban studies program.
All of us in the mid 1960s were concerned with the coverage of microeconomics, particularly in the graduate program. Ross Shepherd and I were students together at Syracuse in 1960. Well aware of his Chicago School theoretical views of economics I successfully lobbied for his appointment to the faculty. He joined the department in 1968. No longer were there complaints from the College Administration regarding the narrowness of the Department's perspective. Quite the contrary, one report contains the following quote, modified to protect the identified. "It is not particularly cheering to admit that I find some of the members of this Department [Economics] less parochial, less provincial than most of the members of the XXX Department." By 1968-69 the Department of Economics was second only to the general program of the College in the number of BA decrees award, 37 v 39.
In 1969 Wagner joined Pool in Mexico for a year. John Ward joined the faculty, Jim Sturgeon, in the Masters program, was awarded an assistantship and Phil DeMoss, of the faculty received his Ph.D. in May 1969. These were the beginning years of campus protest against the Vietnam War. As in other parts of the country course instruction during these years was difficult as well as exciting. Professor Ken Hubbell joined the faculty in 1970, received his Ph.D., and began a meritorious career as advisor to a number of national and international agencies. In 1972 Wagner, not without some concern in Central Administration, was appointed Chairman of the Department. In 1976 the Department received a note from the new Dean of the College George Dahlgren, "Let me congratulate you and the department for the fine job which you have done during the past year in teaching and research. I wish it were possible to build it in all other departments in the College."
One of the most difficult appointments to be made in an Economics Department is that of the instructor of statistics and mathematics. Fortunately for us, since 1981 Dr. Peter Eaton has had that assignment. One of my favorite stories regarding the Department was the hiring of Prof. Mike Viren. I attended the Midwest Economics Convention in Chicago in 1975 in an unsuccessful search of an econometrician. On my return flight to KC I was assigned a seat next to a cowboy complete with ten-gallon hat, buckskin suit, and boots. I tossed an economics text in the seat and he asked me how I liked the book. My immediate thought was "who is this guy." It was Mike. He taught and loved statistics and mathematics. I hired him somewhere over Iowa. About a year later Prof. Viren gained regional fame for his testimony in opposition to the Kansas nuclear power plant. Mike then chose to leave academics.
In 1976 Prof. John Ward returned from a sabbatical in Brazil and became Chair of the Department. Gerald Olson, who joined the faculty in 1971, published a number of articles with Ross Stevens on revenue sharing among states. Prof. Shepherd published The Economics of International Exchange and Prof. Brazelton who was strongly supportive of Omicron Delta Epsilon, the student honor society, was recognized by the organization as the outstanding regional director. In the Annual Report of the Chancellor for the Academic Year 76-77 Wesley Dale including the following note, "The small number of faculty in the Economics Department, with a 9 credit hour teaching load were able to produce one text, six journal articles, 13 professional presentations, and a number of "working papers."
In 1979 John Ward was appointed Associate Dean in the College and Gerald Olson became the Department Chair. In February 1980 Prof. Olson sent a letter to Eldon Parizek, Dean of the College. I am extremely pleased to inform you that the Department has successfully filled all three of our positions for AY [academic year] 1980-81. After an extensive search process we have selected the following: Peter Eaton, Ph.D. Florida, James Sturgeon, Ph.D. Oklahoma, Karen Vorst, Ph.D. Indiana. It turns out Sturgeon joined the faculty in 1978, Eaton was hired in 1979 and Vorst in 1980. These were the last appointments to the Department that would be made for nearly two decades.
Despite the successes of the Department, in the early 1980s a number of the faculty in the Department thought that they would be better received in the School of Business and Public Administration. Moreover, salaries in B&PA were appreciably higher than in the College. The faculty held a meeting to discuss the matter. On Oct. 4, 1982 Dean Parizek sent a note to Chairman Olson. " I have been informed that the Department of Economics may be exploring the possibility of a move from the College of Arts and Science to the School of Business and Public Administration . . . I request from you by tomorrow morning, Tuesday, a written response as to the extent to which such action has been underway, with whom such discussions have occurred, if any, and the purpose of such discussions." We didn't move to B&PA.
In the following years I served another stint as Department Chair. Jack Ward then returned from his tenure as Associate Dean and was appointed Chair. During these years the faculty continued its commitments to teaching, research, and community service. Prof. Shepherd was a Fulbright scholar in Hungary. Peter Eaton, with some help from his friends, formed the Center for Economic Information. A Center for Labor Studies was organized. For a number of years the Department directed the Center for Economic Education, first administered by Gerald Olson and then by Ross Shepherd. Jim Sturgeon, against major odds, was very instrumental in organizing the new Social Science Ph.D. program. Through these many years we have had wonderful students who seemed to be willing to accommodate to the diversity of views of the members of the Department.
In 1986 outside reviewers in their report of the Department wrote, "There is a significant amount of diversity of thought and analysis in the department, a fact which appears as one of the major strengths of the department. There does not appear to be any significant amount of personal animosity as a result of differing economic philosophies, even though these differences often led to bitter in-fighting in many universities. These diversities should be encouraged and the faculty commended for their collegiality." Through it all it has been a great experience to share Bob Brazelton's youth as the rest of us aged.