I was first drawn to Labor Economics by the wide range of topics studied by such economists, and my own desire to push the limits of economics by studying the economics of nonprofit organizations. I was especially interested in the economic underpinnings of the phenomena of volunteer labor. Of course, there are many other aspects of Labor Economics that intrigue me, including issues of wage differentials between groups of different genders or different races. The whole concept of “labor”, and what gives value to labor, is a question that I have been thinking about lately as I watch skilled laborers change the face of Ursuline College.
When I was writing my dissertation, the last year was spent on a fellowship that most likely saved my life. It gave me time to get a job with health insurance that started only four days before I was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor. In that last year, I would often walk onto campus in the morning, carrying my books in a tote bag and passing people who were building a new structure that would become a sports stadium.
After spending a day creating variables or sifting through some tedious statistical issue relating to variables I had created, I left for my car, passing the same building that by now had expanded visibly from the structure I saw earlier in the day. I was always amazed that while I had very little to show for what I had done all day, the people who were building the new building could leave sighing with pride at how much they had accomplished in that short time. I find myself thinking of this these days as I watch the two new buildings being assembled on our campus take shape. It is a transformation that anyone can see on live feeds recording the construction.
One of the buildings was planned for several years, a “Center for Creative and Healing Arts,” It will house the Nursing department, the Art Therapy and Art departments, as well as Fashion Design. This will attach to the Science building, which our department hopes will soon once again become the math and science building. In the meantime, we marvel at the seemingly fearless workers standing on what will become a roof of a building, several stories above the ground.
The other building was made necessary by last year’s tornado that destroyed our gym and forced us to build a new gym. This became an urgent issue since our athletes had only recently been accepted into Division II of the NCAA. Not only are we new members of the NCAA, but we are doing very well there. Indeed, our soccer team won the regular season title for our division, and will be a host in the play-offs in the next few weeks. And to think that our college did not even have athletics when I came here in 1998!
This past week, Pope Francis made some wise statements about the fact that faith and the study of evolution are not intrinsically at odds with each other. He said that, even when we believe in evolution, the original act of creation must have begun somewhere, a “somewhere” that he implies would be named “God.” I am sure that the Ursuline Sisters, a group of holy scholars with whom I work, all of whom took an extra vow of Christian education, would agree. Their vocations take them into new areas of scholarship and creative work on a daily basis. And for some, they take them into much more frightening places, including, in recent memory, imprisonment and martyrdom. As I watched our campus construction progress, I recalled a line from the sacred texts that form the basis of their commitment. Written by a visionary who imagined the end result of countless lives lived in loving and dedicated labor, he summed up the result with the words “see, I make all things new.”
Wishing everyone, especially those with children who like to “trick or treat”, a fun and safe weekend.
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