I have taught at several institutions of higher learning in my life. My main motivation for doing so, apart from earning a living of course, is an attempt to "pass on the baton." When I was a young pup, there were quite a few people who went out of their way to instill in me something very precious: an appreciation for free market economics and the libertarian political philosophy. I feel that now, at a point in my life when I am just short of my full dotage, I have at least a moral responsibility to continue to help pass on to others, particularly younger people, what was so generously given to me when I was much younger. Foremost amongst these people was Murray Rothbard. He is never far from my thoughts when I engage in such activities.
The worse experiences I have had were at colleges where the students were not intellectually gifted, and not really interested in the subject. They took my courses solely to satisfy graduation credit requirements; it was hard to create a "spark" in them. Converts to the one true faith were few and far between.
I had a much better experience at Holy Cross, where I was blessed with several exceedingly good students. The difficulty, there, was that I was the only faculty member interested in Austrian economics and libertarianism. There were several colleagues who could be characterized as at least lukewarm supporters of economic freedom, but none for whom this was an abiding, certainly not overwhelming interest. As a result, the only faculty member from whom my students could obtain my own particular worldview was me. The difficulty is that it is not easy to interest students in Austro-libertarianism, since this requires the overcoming of practically all their past teachings on this subject. When you are the only faculty member professing a given position, whatever it is, it is all too easy to be dismissed as a "lone nut."
Things are far better at my present academic post, with the economics department of Loyola University New Orleans. Here, all the members of the department, without exception, are supporters of free enterprise, and, out of the six of us, four are Austrians (the other two are at least sympathetic.) In addition, we have another three faculty members in the business school alone with interest in my own views sufficient for them to have attended, several times, meetings of the Austrian Scholars’ Conference in Auburn AL. Further, there are members of the law school, and other colleges of the university with interest enough to do this and also to regularly attend our Human Action seminar at the college.
Given that all of these faculty members interact with all of our students, and that the interest of the latter is further piqued by a series of visiting lecturers, the brew is an extremely heady one. The lecturers are of my own choosing (thanks to my endowed chair), and reflect my values. For example, in the last little while we have had Hans Hoppe, Guido Huelsmann and Tom DiLorenzo. As a result, my teachings are no longer dismissed by many as that of a "lone nut"; instead, when I see students for the first time in my senior courses, they are already very well immersed in the free enterprise literatures. It is probably no accident that in the last year, five of our free enterprise students went on to economics Ph.D. programs, and several others of the same ilk are pursuing graduate studies in other fields. It is also a credit to our program that not only have hordes of us driven almost 500 miles to the Mecca of Austro-libertarianism for various Mises Institute events, we have established some sort of world’s record in terms of numbers of people attending the Austrian Scholars’ Conference. At one such event, there were almost 20 students, and almost 10 professors. (I must acknowledge, however, that the students at Washington University in St. Louis outstripped us in this regard. We might have beat them in absolute numbers of students, barely, but these kids did it all on their own without any faculty support whatsoever; my hat is off to their amazing achievement.) Whether as a result of these considerations or not, my students at Loyola University New Orleans are the best I have ever had in my entire career.
In my years in this particular vineyard, I have also given numerous lectures to college age students under the auspices of several free enterprise—oriented think tanks. But I have never enjoyed any so much as the ones organized under the name Mises University during the summers. I especially enjoyed the one just completed in the summer of 2004.
The highlights for me are not so much the lectures given. The students (and often, fellow professors) enjoy these greatly, and I would stack mine and those of my fellow colleagues against those given under the auspices of any other such organization. Of even more importance, personally, are the numerous chances to interact with students (who come from all four corners of the earth) over the meals, the breaks, the evening beer fests. Then, I can get to know at least some of them (there are usually in the neighborhood of 125 students, so it is hard to get to know them all in a week) reasonably well. Very satisfying is the fact that many of them have been urged to attend by their professors — who themselves were students at these events five, ten, fifteen and even twenty years ago. Nothing makes me feel like an old coot as much as the fact that many present attendees are there because of their professors, who I vividly remember as apple-cheeked students peppering me with questions and objections lo these many years ago.
Another highlight of the Mises University events is the quality, motivation and immersion into the subject matter of the students. This shows up, dramatically, in the oral exams (we call them Mündliche Prüfung). Here, a student sits before a panel of anywhere from 3—6 professors, and answers questions for 10—15 minutes. Needless to say, many students are nervous at the prospect of such a challenge. With our mass educational system, not too many have had any practice at all at this sort of thing. But this is a rare opportunity for a beginner, and we always encourage them to take on this test. Like most things, it gets easier with practice; and, it is of invaluable help for Ph.D. oral examinations. I don’t have any figures on this, but it is my impression that only about 25% pass, and, perhaps, 5% with honors. This past August, however, my committee was assigned 9 students. We passed an astounding 4 of them, and an even more astounding 3 of them with honors. One student, I will not mention his name to spare him embarrassment, was so good that I couldn’t withhold the remark while he was in the room that he was sitting on the wrong side of the table, and really ought to join us on ours. Of the five we failed, two or three of them were very close misses. What a privilege to be associated with students of this caliber.
Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans.