This is no joke. Most people think academics get to take the summer off to vacation as they please. Even some of the better informed think the summer is just for research--with students and teaching as far from the mind as possible. The fiction is also reflected in academic salaries, which are paid for nine months of work. In principle, we do not get paid over the summer since we are not supposed to be doing any work for our institutions.
If it were only so! It is hot as hell in Turkey (yes, I can at least get away from Cambridge during the summer months...) and I am busy preparing my course syllabus for the Fall. We have to turn in our course reserve lists in early August, and if you are revising your course in any way--as I am--this means getting busy right about now.
This gives me occasion to meditate about the nature of teaching economics in a public policy school.
There is a standard mold for teaching economics to undergraduates and to doctoral students. Look at syllabi for courses in international trade in leading universities, and you will see very few differences. That is because there are some standard textbooks to follow, and because (at the doctoral level) there is a clear academic literature that has to be taught.
But how do you teach international trade and trade policy to a group of students who will be policy makers and professionals in the real world--who are too sophisticated and well informed to treat as undergraduates, but for whom the typical doctoral course is useless because it covers the research frontier and not the tools for thinking about policy?
This is a tough one, and even though I have thought about it for quite some time and experimented with different models over the years, it is a question that still baffles me. The international trade course that I teach is targeted at second-year MPAIDs, who have excellent training in microeconomic theory and econometrics. Somewhat paradoxically, this makes the challenge even greater. With a less well-prepared group, you can resort to the usual excuse: well, these students don't have much background in economics, so I have no choice to teach an essentially undergraduate course, with a few policy anecdotes thrown in. But the students who take my course have invested in heavy duty economics for a whole year (see here for their curriculum) and now deserve better. My hope is to train them beyond simply being able to understand what is in the WSJ, FT, or The Economist. They need to be able to evaluate critically what is in the policy-relevant academic literature and think creatively about policy options in light of that literature.
This is a lot more difficult than it may appear. The last few times I have tried to do this, I found myself teaching too much of a conventional doctoral economics type course--with lots of theory and so on. Students (rightly) complained that we did not have enough time left to get to discuss policy issues.
So this time around I am trying something different. I am organizing the syllabus around policy issues rather than the standard topic headings. So, rather than have a section in the syllabus on "theories of comparative advantage," the relevant headings become "why do countries trade what they do," and "does it matter?" Globalization strategies, China, WTO, and regional trade agreements get their own sections. (See here for the syllabus as it stands at present--minus the readings.)
You might say, what's the big deal? Well, the challenge is to teach an issues-oriented course while avoiding superficiality and still remaining rigorous and strongly grounded in the literature. I do not know if I will pull it off. Check back at the end of the Fall term.
And if you have any suggestions about additional topics for the course, do let me know. (But bear in mind that my colleague Federico Sturzenegger teaches a continuation of this course in the Spring, covering financial globalization.)