Time is right for self-evaluation, changes and improvements


Mark Witte is an economics lecturer. He can be reached at [email protected].

Spring is the season of change, which makes it a great time to be at a place like Northwestern. Universities like ours are great engines of change. By taking in students and exposing them to new ideas, we help many achieve life goals, and others we spin around and put off on completely new directions. Through research, we change the state of the art of how we understand the world and what we can do with it.

Change happens within NU itself, although to the naked eye of an undergraduate, the pace probably seems to fall behind glacial. (We won’t get into what’s in the eye of the naked undergraduate.)

How does change happen at NU? It can happen “from the top”, as when Medill and Weinberg bring in deans who are full of new ideas, or when a major donor gives us the resources to start something that was previously out of our reach. Or when we elect a Ph.D. in accounting with a lot of business experience to Evanston’s city council to provide the business sense and leadership this city needs. (Please, please vote!).

Alternatively, change can come “from the bottom”, where students think things through, organize and convince the school to make the sorts of improvements that faculty and administrators would never have realized were necessary. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, but NU really does depend on ideas from undergraduates for how to make things better. (Please vote again in the upcoming Associated Student Government elections!)

Change can come from inside as well. We can each try new things (Dump chem for econ? Ditch econ for LOC?) or try to do what we do, but better. This spring I’m trying to do both. I’m teaching a new class for me, and I’m trying to figure out how to teach an old one better.

I’m having the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence evaluate my Introduction to Macroeconomics class. This won’t be fun, and I just know that most of what they recommend will be misguided, inapplicable and a waste of time. (How’s that for an attitude?) But certainly some of what they’ll tell me will be things that I’ll be embarrassed I haven’t been doing from the beginning. Examinations aren’t fun, but they do make us take stock of how we’re doing and try to do better.

It’s important to remind myself that this quarter I’m not just teaching yet another section of Macro, but that a whole new bunch of students (like me long ago) will be seeing this material for the first time. Many of them came to college quite sure of what they wanted to do, but found out that they were mistaken and are now open to making a change in their plans and lives. Certainly some of the best economics students I’ve ever had were Spring Quarter refugees from other majors who found homes in economics (and certainly many passed them going the other direction!).

Change happens. I hope that in facing up to and thinking about them, the changes we get will be able to be classified as “improvements.”