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Although I don't agree with your measure of success (the number of students you inspire to go into economics), AMEN to the rest of it brother Pete! Research and teaching are mostly complementary goods.

Even at a place like mine with a 3-3 load, one can and should still publish consistently, though perhaps not at the level of a research-oriented school. If you are, as you say, passionate about economics, you'll have the motivation and you'll find the time to write and publish. And you'll be a far better teacher, ceteris paribus, for doing so.

BTW, my own measure of "success" would be in terms of the number of former students who retain ideas and analysis from your courses, even if they don't go into economics or related disciplines. I have students from 10 or 15 years ago or more who still email me every once in awhile because they saw something in the news or somewhere that reminded them of class - or that they saw something about me on the SLU website. That what we did many years ago is still salient to them, and that they have done well with their lives, is success for me.

Let me add one other comment about teaching schools. One huge difference here is that faculty are expected to be involved in governance/committee work in a much deeper way than at other kinds of schools. That turns ol' Hans's 12 hours into a bunch more. Still, even with those constraints, liberal arts college faculty ought to have a consistent publication record, if only because, as you say, you can't be a truly great teacher without being passionately engaged in your discipline. If my students are paying $50K a year for great teaching and engaging in research is part of being a great teacher....

I also think you don't have a lot of credibility in subjecting students to your withering analysis of their work if you are not willing to put your own work before your peers - and pass the test from time to time.


I'm very glad that you think there is no teaching/research trade-off. I will let our Chairman know immediately that he can increase your teaching load at no cost to your research productivity! This is excellent news for the rest of us!



A great post. I am largely in agreement with the whole of Boettke's arguments. The role of the teacher *is* one of inspiration to inquiry. But I think Dr. Boettke is putting too much emphasis on the personal qualities of the teacher. A teacher does not need to "exhibit" excitement and enthusiasm for his discipline in a lively and passionate way in order to inspire his students to inquiry. This method of teaching, in my own experience, has the unfortunate effect of making the learning of economics more of a social event rather than a personal journey. Just because a teacher is entertaining in the classroom does not mean that he is effective at inspiring students to inquiry.

I think a good teacher should be open to his students, and willing to engage the ideas of his students no matter how silly they may appear to him. If students feel that their teacher is open to discussion, they will want to impress him by reading more widely.

Now this quality also leads me to question Dr. Boettke's conflation of communicating *economic theory* with the art of teaching. There are many ways to approach the study of economics; indeed, economics, for good or bad, is not an immutable science. (Demand curves do not necessarily slope downward and the science is not characterized by conditions of scarcity.) So a teacher who thinks that he understands the fundamentals of economics may discourage his students from exploring different appproaches to the discipline because every inquiry will be seen as a deviation by the teacher with respect to his own perspective. A GOOD teacher recognizes and appreciates methodological pluralism, and encourages his students to read widely.

After returning from the FEE Austrian seminar, I am happy to say that I am describing the teaching qualities of Dr. Boettke himself. Dr. Boettke was open to my ideas, even though they are admittedly inchoate and in many ways different from his own, and he made friendly references to works by other economists who take a different approach to the study of economic theory, namely Ted Burczak and Paul Davidson. Dr. Boettke is NOT arrogant or an ideologue, and this is what makes a good teacher: intellectual openness and the practice of humility.

Matthew must have plugged his ears during Dr. Boettke's final lecture in which Dr. Boettke emphasized that demand curves always slope downward and that scarcity is inescapable.

Dr. Boettke is indeed an outstanding teacher. But Matthew is apparently not much of a student.


In a world of scarce time, everything trades off at the margin of course. Pete's point, and mine, I think is that in the bigger picture, research and teaching are complements not substitutes.


I was not able to attend Dr. Boettke's final lecture at the seminar because I had to catch a flight earlier that morning.

And I believe the reason why Dr. Boettke emphasized the "neoclassical" features of demand curves and scarcity in the way that he did was because I challenged these ideas in a discussion group we had earlier that week.

And while I recognize the brilliance of Dr. Boettke, I think a good student is one who is able to digest the teachings of his instructors critically. As a side note, Peter Leeson could have said anything (or nothing!) about self-governance and the students would have loved him for it. I was slightly disappointed with how star-struck many were when they found themselves in the presence of Dr. Leeson. A good student is able to challenge received wisdom. A poor student is one who lets his ideology cloud his intellectual judgment.

Matthew: There are different styles that work for different students. For many students a bit of enthusiasm goes a long way. After all, if your professor can't get excited about a subject, it is easy to see the subject as boring. If the professor seems trapped in one way of thinking, but is enthusiastic about it, then the student can at least get excited enough himself to challenge the teacher.

However, I agree that the professor must also be open to new ways of approaching the subject - and especially, he must be able to understand that other ways exist. If he can understand them, and allow the student to explore them, then he is a good teacher. If he can truly be open to them, and help the student seek them out (as you say Pete Boettke did for you) then he is a great teacher.

I also agree that students give Pete Leeson a pass they would not give others, but this is because he inspires people. His enthusiasm and creativity make up for his sometimes single-mindedness about approach.

Me too: I think Pete pretty much nailed it. I very much hope that I cultivate open mindedness and critical thinking. But I think a professor should profess his point of view. I think I have an obligation to let my students know what the subject looks like *to me.* Otherwise, what would distinguish me from a high-school teacher? Otherwise, why should I have academic freedom? Thus, to be a good teaching professor, I must be a good research professor.

I should probably say a few words to guard against the view that we should propagandists in class. Here goes: I also have an obligation to let students know what the intellectual menu of choice looks like, which points are relatively more contentious and which relatively less contentious. Where, in other words, the conversation is at. And I certainly have an obligation to ensure that students are genuinely free -- and *feel* genuinely free -- to disagree. Otherwise, we cannot have a true conversation, without which there is no education. But I cannot do that if I pretend that I do not have a point of view. If I am paid to be a professor, I'd better have something to profess. BTW: If that's about right, then Pete was right to lay down his POV that demand curves slope downward and so on.

I can't speak as a professor teaching at a fine liberal arts college, or at a maverick graduate school. I can only speak from my own experience here in the trenches.

I find that many if not most of the students that I have in the classroom -- from the 101 level (where 95% are non-majors) to the 400 level -- place great weight on instructor personality. Too much weight. Too many students get turned on to economics, say, not so much because of the ideas, but because of their professor's characteristics.

As a result, all too many seem to follow a professor throughout their undergrad education --"Take as many classes as you can with Dr. X." "He rocks my world!" "She's so easy!" "I love him because he's a nutcase!" "I'm doing the Dr. Y major." Etc.

And they shortchange themselves. They fall for the prof, not the major.

I suppose I, along with several others I know, am a "recipient" of these choices. I guess I have a reputation for being an exciting "personality." Some student on ratemyprofessors even said that in this age of the cult of personality, I am "the Godhead." But I always encourage my advisees to take a variety of professors in their major, for different perspectives and emphases, and so on. I also try to carefully explain to my students to invest themselves in the major, not the instructor: you will have to live with your major, not your favorite professor!

This might be worth repeating: Invest yourself in the major, not the instructor. You will have to live with your major, not your favorite professor!

Hardly any of my undergrad professors, and grad professors, attracted me because of their personality or in-class dynamism, etc. (In fact, I can only think of one: Boulding.) I became an economics major because the ideas and claims just blew me away. Pat Paulson (Pat who?) could have delivered the material and I would've been thrilled to take as complete notes as possible.

I was weird that way. I suppose I wish the typical student here were a weirdo like me, as opposed to liking the course because it is taught by a weirdo like me.

That is, Pat Paulsen (Pat who?).

Dr. Boettke,

I don't think I've ever replied to any posts here but I am a regular reader. This post really struck me. I've recently (past year) become enamored with economics as a discipline and all its implications for the wider world. Like you wrote, once captivated with the subject one gains a passion to talk about it, write about it, contribute to it, and teach it to others. Although I only have a BA in economics, the relative paucity of economic understanding evidenced by my peers drives me to--sometimes repetitively--try to explain the economic concepts I do know.

Unfortunately it was not any of my professors that sparked such an interest, though I have had one great professor during my undergrad (Richard Vedder). My interest started from reading the many econ blogsites online (This one, Mankiw, Marginal Rev, Cafe Hayek, to name a few) and then picking up relatively old books in economics. Last summer I read a few books by Joseph Schumpeter (CSD, Business Cycles, Theory of Econ Development), but it was not until I read Mises that I truly realized the overall position of economic science within any useful conception of the world. I continue to read about economics--come to think of it, it's all I read--and plan to read all of the major theoretical works. It's blossomed into an interest in social philosophy, which is what I think economics truly is--applied social philosophy.

I'm not sure if my comment has any real point to add to your post on professor's teaching load and research load balance. I just figured I'd let you know that there are students like myself, who have developed a thorough appreciation for economics and all that it has to offer, without any outstanding professors there to ignite that interest. (To be fair to Dr. Vedder he is an outstanding prof. I just took his courses after I gained this interest. He did help me a lot though.)

The best thing to happen to economics is the internet and the ability for young students, like myself, to see The Great Conversation (as Art Carden put it once) first hand, as it takes place. Thanks for writing Dr. Boettke.

Ryan S.

Alex and others,

I just want to remind everyone what Lionel Robbins once said about his own experience in school days, "And it was my impression in those days that very distinguished people actually overworked. Note I am talking about people who are dead now, but the very distinguished historian of medieval economic thought A. J. Carlisle told me that he used to give 1:1 tutorials thirty hours a week. Now, that was very different from the state of affairs described by Adam Smith. ..." (1979 p. 159)

I can only hope that some students in my generation will aspire to be as productive as Dr. Boettke and still devote so much time to their students. I am a little surprised to see that the only time which gets credited as teaching is that which is assigned by the department chair... ;)


I wrote an earlier post on this list about "let me edutain you" and the changing nature of being a professor. Pete Leeson is an outstanding lecturer and an entertaining one as well. But also his substance, in my opinion, is through the roof. Put simply, in over 20 years of being a professor I have never seen anyone communicate complicated economic ideas better than Pete. He is a natural.

I first saw this before Pete was even a graduate student at GMU. The summer before he started his PhD studies he went with me to Prague as a teaching assistant. 120 students from 28 different countries were there, Pete ran break out sessions. I would attend his lectures and be in awe ... he was by far more articulate and engaging than I ever hoped for, and the students responded to him that way.

It turns out, Pete is also an amazing scholar. He grabs hold of a topic as a pit-bull would and doesn't let go.

So yes students treat him like a rock-star, but he is a rock-star. And he will debate endlessly with someone, so he invites critique and engagement. So he doesn't demand slavish following, but he does demand interesting conversation and rigorous argument. Yes students tend to hang on every word, but Pete would rather that they push the arguments. You missed his talk on anarchy, but it was all about what he calls "HARD CASE QUESTIONS", not easy case. We (he and I) have been talking about those HCQ since the start to avoid the perceived pitfalls of previous self-governance literature from a libertarian perspective.

What you have before you when Pete is up there is a force of nature --- the best talent to come along in Austrian economics since the great ones, like Mises, Hayek, Rothbard and Kirzner. He can think, he can write, and he can speak --- and he looks good doing it. That is why he has had the success he has in terms of scholarship (JPE, etc.), and popular media mentions (New Yorker, Boston Globe, etc.) --- and if he gets the chance to do TV, I am sure it will translate into that medium as well. My sincere hope is that he will keep focused on the scholarship side and write the break through work that I know he is capable of doing. Mises once said that we could only expect true theoretical innovation from 1 or 2 per generation, I think that is right, and my bet would be that Pete Leeson will be the author of that break through --- not only does he have the talent, he has the determination to do so.

A photographer recently decided to do show entitled "portraits of liberty" --- he picked Pete; earlier a magazine article was being written the best and brightest at GMU, Pete was chosen. He is getting a lot of attention, but he has handled it in stride and with humility ... a lot more humble than I was when I had my little brush with attention in the early 1990s.

The bottom line, in assessing this phenomena one could argue that there is a mass delusion going on, or one could recognize that we are witness to a unique talent in our discipline. I would suggest that we recognize the unique talent and simply enjoy the ride. I know Pete hates this analogy, but I always say to him that I have come to grips with the idea that I might be Butch Harmon or David Ledbetter to his Tiger Woods. BTW, you want an interesting and long debate with Pete, ask him about Tiger!

To use another sports analogy --- when Derek Jeter was brought up with the Yankees, the Yankees won World Series after World Series. Jeter performed admirably. And he was justly awarded with respect and financial renumeration despite his youth. In fact, he was made a Captain of the Yankees. So just because someone is young it doesn't mean that accomplishment shouldn't be rewarded. Pete, like Jeter, is young, but amazingly accomplished. It is silly to not recognize it.

Everything Pete B. says about Pete L. is true, but let's see Leeson win the U.S. open on a broken leg!

Seriously, though, how do exceptions like Leeson disprove the rule that for most mortal professors, there is a tradeoff at the margin between teaching and research? If you mean to say that many (most?) professors aren't fulfilling their potential in either, that's one thing. Then, yes, they can research more, which should tend to inspire more passion for teaching (pedagogical research seems to indicate that clarity is far more important for student performance than passion, but passion is important). But even then, there are tradeoffs, as Alex pointed out so clearly.

Scarcity laws aside, I read Dr. Boettke's post as clearly setting aside the either-or choice. I may be naive to believe that is possible, but it seems that research and teaching are mutually reinforcing when one values them as parts of a whole. I understand trade-offs and workload, but those are too often used as excuses, in my experience.

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