If Economists can point to any one concept as being central to our field of study, it is the idea of “markets.” In a market, those who supply something interact with those who demand it. Such a market can be one of a product, a service, such as labor (including, I might add, volunteer labor), or even the marketplace of ideas. I found myself thinking of this recently as our campus prepares for a day of reading “banned books” and as I learned of the recent passing of a former colleague, an economist named Jack.
At my first job out of graduate school, Jack was a senior professor who was drawn to the idea of creating controversy. I now realize that many of his statements were probably made to encourage honest dissent in the University, and that I may never know how he truly felt about some of the topics he liked to discuss. He was larger than life, and disdainful of anything that implied “political correctness.” He opposed the American with Disabilities Act and Affirmative Action, and while I disagreed with him most of the time, his thoughts assured us that the marketplace of ideas had a healthy exchange with a supply of ideas from all sides.
I have Jack to thank for two random events that ended up shaping my life. He was the person who interviewed me for my first job, and thus brought me to Cleveland. Taking that first job allowed me to land here and obtain health insurance and access to one of the world’s best hospitals with only days to spare in my battle with a large brain tumor I didn’t even know existed. Years later, he chaired the Tenure committee that was clearly planning to deny me tenure. The poor prospects I saw as I interacted with that committee encouraged me to seek employment elsewhere, leading me to Ursuline College. As I have written before, Ursuline has been a place that has allowed me to grow as a person and to have a positive influence on the lives of many students, some of whom came to us after difficult times had led to detours in their lives. I have seen students attend graduate school after fighting serious illnesses and women attend medical school that came to us as single mothers. In addition, Ursuline has been a great place to work as I parent a young (and spirited) daughter. Although I am generally teaching outside of my field, I am able to continue my research and still refer to myself as an economist. Taking a job at Ursuline is a choice that I might not have been wise enough to make had it not been for the influence of that professor, Jack.
I found myself thinking of him recently, as a group on campus is planning a “banned books day”, a meeting during which portions of books that were once banned will be read. Those planning it, like that professor Jack, feel that that such behavior is a way to make a statement about the importance of academic inquiry into even the most controversial of topics. This group at Ursuline has invited everyone to join in the celebration and to come and read from our own favorite “banned book.” As I have some time to decide on such a book before the event, I am asking my readers for suggestions as to what might be interesting to read. Alas, I can’t ask Jack, who I am sure would have some great ideas.
As I have been at Ursuline for almost double the time I was at my first job, I had not been in touch with Jack for many years. I learned recently that he passed away, and I mourn his loss. I also smile when I think of what his first encounter with my sister might have been like. She spent her entire life overcoming and working on behalf of people with disabilities, and is the mother of two beautiful biracial children. I can imagine that there would have been quite a discussion between them when they met in the Hereafter. Likewise, I am convinced that Jack will forever work to assure that controversial ideas will continue to populate Heaven. He will be missed.