The Rice University Economics department has launched the Rice Economics Initiative to improve teaching and research over the next few years, according to Dean of Social Sciences Lyn Ragsdale. 

The Rice University Economics department has launched the Rice Economics Initiative to improve teaching and research over the next few years, according to Dean of Social Sciences Lyn Ragsdale. 

“The initiative refers to the investment Rice is going to make over the next several years in Economics by hiring new faculty in all areas of Economics,” Ragsdale said. 

Economics professor and Martel College Master Ted Loch-Temzelides said the new initiative will help the department bring new research and talent to the campus. 

“The initiative provides an unprecedented amount of resources that will allow us to attract the best and the brightest, the most promising researchers to Rice,” Loch-Temzelides said. 

Ragsdale said the initiative will help to bring more opportunities to the large number of students with Economics majors at Rice.

“Since we have more Economics majors than any other major on campus, the initiative will allow us to increase our course offerings, research experiences, and other opportunities,” Ragsdale said. 

Loch-Temzelides said that with the department’s relatively small size, the effort will be directed towards improving various subfields. 

“Like other departments at Rice, the size of the Economics department will still be small relative to our competitors,” Loch-Temzelides said. “We will be seeking to establish excellence in some, if not all subfields in economics.”

As part of the initiative, more professors will be hired to serve as both teachers and researchers in the department, according to Ragsdale. 

“Over the next several years, we will be hiring top economists who are both very skilled teachers and excellent researchers,” Ragsdale said. “This will provide students with a great opportunity to take classes from and work on research projects with renowned faculty.”  

Loch-Temzelides said that the loss of faculty is an issue that the department has been dealing with. 

“The Economics department has lost several faculty members in recent years,” Temzelides said. “In a way, we were at a low point.”

Will Rice College Senior and Economics major Amol Utrankar said that there is a need for improvement in teaching in the department. 

“The quality of teaching is subpar,” Utrankar said. “There are several classes in the department that have been taught by the same professor, despite receiving poor reviews every semester for the past few years. I learned Macroeconomics from a professor who read verbatim from the Wall Street Journal; that’s not a $50,000 a year education.”

While Utrankar said he is uncertain how the new hirings will change how the department is run, he said he hopes to see overall improvements .

“I’m not sure how the new hires will affect things yet, but  I’d like to see a greater variety and availability of upper-level classes,” Utrankar said. “I’d like to see a renewed emphasis on teaching as well as student outreach in research and professional development.” 

According to Loch-Temzelides the recent appointment of Antonio Merlo as chair of the Economics Department has been beneficial in attracting attention and providing greater opportunities. 

“Professor Merlo is an extremely well-respected scholar internationally,” Loch-Temzelides said. “As a result, his appointment has already attracted attention to what is happening at Rice. He has already been able to attract three very promising scholars who will be joining us in the coming fall.” 

According to Utrankar, research opportunities is another area in which the department needs to improve. 

“Undergraduate participation in Economics research is also terribly poor,” Utrankar said. “At last year’s Social Sciences awards ceremony, while other departments recognized many of their graduates’ achievements, the Economics department presented only a single research award and was the only Social Sciences department to not graduate anyone with Distinction in Research.” 

However, Utrankar said he is optimistic about the future of the department. 

“The department seems to undergraduates to be stagnant and isolated the last few years,” Utrankar said. “Many of us are really just thrilled to see some willingness to improve.”

Will Rice freshman Aakash Shah also said any changes in the department, especially regarding research, are important steps in the right direction. 

“I think the changes are definitely welcome,” Shah said. “I especially think the new research initiative will greatly improve economics education at Rice by giving undergraduates the research opportunities Rice is known for.” 

According to Loch-Temzelides, the initiative will improve the status of the Economics department on a broader level. 

“The new initiative recognizes the importance of economics as a discipline,” Loch-Temzelides said. “Rice deserves an Economics department that will be at least as prominent as the university itself. I have full confidence that we will meet and exceed that goal. We are off to a very exciting start.”