By Smiti Mittal
Over 400 students have signed a petition calling on the Department of Economics to reinstate lecturer Scott McKeon after his classes were suspended due to budget cuts.
The petition, started on May 23, was created after the department published its list of courses that will be offered in the 2021-22 academic year. Students quickly noticed it did not include McKeon’s popular classes, ECON102B: Applied Econometrics and ECON137: Decision Modeling and Information, both classes he had taught for five years. ECON102B, a core class, will instead be taught by two other economics professors, and ECON137, a field course, will not be offered at all.
Several undergraduates said McKeon is crucial to Stanford’s economics program. Economics majors Cary Turner ’22 and Sawyer Taylor ’23 were especially concerned upon learning about the change in lectureship. Turner reached out to McKeon, who told Turner that the change was not his choice.
This was confirmed in an email sent out to all undergraduate economics majors earlier this week.
“We made this adjustment last fall after receiving our budgets for 2021-22, which necessitated a number of reductions,” economics department administrators wrote. “It is correct that Dr. McKeon will teach fewer classes for the Economics Department next year compared to recent years.”
As a lecturer, rather than a professor, McKeon has limited options when it comes to pushing back on his department. Job security has been a persistent concern for lecturers during the pandemic, with several reporting to The Daily last spring that they worried about the potential impacts of budget restrictions, such as salary freezes or termination.
McKeon did not respond to the Daily’s request for comment.
Instead, to save McKeon’s classes, Turner and Taylor turned to students. As of June 4, their petition, “Prevent Stanford from Cutting Professor Scott McKeon’s Classes,” has garnered 447 signatures and 118 comments. The petition asks the department to reconsider its decision and “appropriate the necessary funds to keep Professor McKeon on staff full-time,” while acknowledging the financial difficulties the University has faced during the pandemic.
Students in the comments displayed overwhelming support for McKeon, with some students saying he is the best teacher that they had ever had. Several students also said his two classes played a key role in their decision to major or minor in economics.
“Scott is the reason I declared an economics major,” wrote Joey Diaz ’22, an economics major who took several classes with McKeon, in an email to The Daily. “In high school, I found economics quite dull and uninteresting. However, Scott’s passion and way of presenting economics sparked my interest.”
The sentiment was echoed by Crystal Chen ’22, who is nominating McKeon for the second time this year for the Department of Economics’ Faculty Teaching Award.
“Even in such large classes, he makes courses feel personal. He’s stayed past his office hours till late at night to step by step go over our questions,” Chen wrote to The Daily.
Chen added that every day she would tell her family “about how amazing his course philosophy and course material and personality are,” even though she struggled at times and spent over 20 hours a week on all of his classes.
Taylor praised the effort McKeon puts into pre-recording his lectures. She said his recordings allowed her to take his classes on her own schedule, with breaks, and that she did not experience Zoom fatigue as a result. In the petition, Taylor and Turner wrote, “We can say with full confidence that the quality of the department will suffer if Professor Scott McKeon’s classes are cut […] It would be a dire mistake to place Stanford’s short-term revenues above its long-term quality and reputation.”
In response to the student action, economics department chair B. Douglas Bernheim emailed students expressing his appreciation for the “excellence of Dr. McKeon’s instruction” and affirming he will continue to be affiliated with the department. Bernheim also thanked students that have expressed support for McKeon.
But, he doubled down on citing financial infeasibility as the reason the department could not reverse the decision.
“We made this adjustment last fall after receiving our budgets for 2021-22, which necessitated a number of reductions,” Bernheim wrote. “We would of course have preferred to reduce nothing, as we believe strongly that all components of our program are valuable, and all would be missed. However, due to the effects of COVID, that option was not on the table.”
He further wrote that he had spoken with McKeon last fall to settle on an adjusted teaching schedule and informed him that the adjustments due to budget restrictions would be temporary. He “promised to work diligently toward restoration of our lecturer budget after 2021-22,” and said that he followed through on that promise, discussing the topic with the Deans of the School of Humanities and Sciences on “multiple occasions over the course of the year, long before the current petition circulated.”
“The Deans have been more than sympathetic, and I believe they have been trying their best to make this outcome possible,” Bernheim added.