Saturday, September 07, 2013

A Record for the University of Virginia?

According to a story that appeared after the death of Ronald Coase, both Coase and James Buchanan were deliberately pushed out of the University of Virginia for political reasons.
In 1994, Coase told this reporter how one of his UVA colleagues accidentally received a copy of a secret dossier compiled by then Dean of the Faculty Robert Harris in which Harris outlined a plan to change the economics faculty. Under then President Edgar Shannon, Harris allegedly used non-promotion and non-offer-matching to force Jefferson Center scholars to disperse. Coase left UVA for Chicago in 1964; Buchanan departed four years later.
"I think [the report] was very damning because it makes quite clear what their attitude was and there was actually a policy to get rid of us," Coase said. "My wife once heard someone at a cocktail party describe me as someone to the right of the John Birch society. It wasn't true. You know, I'm English and have a completely different history from most of the other people and am not really much involved at all in American politics."
According to one of the accounts I read (but cannot at the moment find), part of the incentive for UVA to try to get rid of Coase and Buchanan was an implied threat by one of the major foundations not to fund them unless they did.

Both Coase and Buchanan later received Nobel Prizes for their work. According to one commenter on the Coase/UVA story:
UVA also ran off Dr. Barry Marshall, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2005 for his discovery that H. Pylori causes gastric ulcers. He did the majority of his work — and published his seminal papers— while he was at UVA. The good ole' boys running internal medicine at UVA didn't think much of his work.
The University of Chicago is said to hold the record for the largest number of Nobel Prizes won by its faculty. Judging by these account, UVA may hold the record for the largest number of (future) Nobel Prizes lost.


At 8:50 AM, September 08, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah but chicago probably tries to fire leftist people from the faculty.

although this particular conspiracy theory does not make sense so i doubt its true. why would the dean have written such a document? when people want to do something questionable like that the incentive surely is to not record these things in writing.

even if the document existed may be it was part of a much larger course of action to reform the faculty not for pure political reasons. e.g. maybe they wanted much more mathematically orientated faculty (coase's work was not particularly mathematical). so may be coase misunderstood what he was reading.

At 3:55 PM, September 08, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And let's not forget Gordon Tullock. Though he did not win the Nobel Prize, the point you are trying to make, he was certainly distinguished in his own right. And like you, he is self-taught in the field for which he did the majority of his work (economics).

Bob Tollison once told me that Tullock was run out of UVA because he would sit in the quad drinking coffee with a different faculty member every day and tell them that they were full of shit. Originally, I thought Tollison's remarks were hyperbole, but after getting to know Tullock, maybe not.

At 4:05 PM, September 08, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous 1:

If Chicago tries to get rid of leftist people from its faculty, how did it miss Obama, Lessig, Sunstein, ... ? Judging by my time in the law school, what was different about Chicago from other elite schools was not that it didn't have left wing professors but that it did have professors who were not left wing.

I don't have data, but my guess from being there is that if the faculty of either the law school or the whole university had been polled, the Democratic candidate for president would have won in every election in my lifetime.

At 4:06 PM, September 08, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous 2:

Sounds like Gordon to me.

He managed to give the impression of reading every book published--but I think he was bluffing almost half the time.

At 1:27 PM, September 11, 2013, Blogger Eric Rasmusen said...

George Stigler once told me a story something like this:

In 1964, someone was telling him how ideological the U. of C. economists were. They asked him how many economists were going to vote for Goldwater. He said, "About half," and they replied--"Look how extreme you are!"
He asked, "And how many in your department?" and got the answer, "None, of course."

At 1:32 PM, September 11, 2013, Blogger Eric Rasmusen said...

Also, U. of Chicago is, I think, essentially a left-wing institution, except with a somewhat right-wing b-school and econ department and maybe law school and social thought (though the law school has changed a lot). I might go there on sabbatical next year and was researching "Centers" to ask for an office and came across this one:

and, for example:


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