Economics Ph.D program comes back to University after extended absence

Auburn's economics Ph.D program, which was eliminated from campus in 1999, is finally back after 13 years.

The controversy started when head football coach, Terry Bowden, resigned midseason in 1998, according to David Laband, former chair of the economics department and current head of Ph.D program at Georgia Tech University.

Laband said Bowden argued that Bobby Lowder, a member of the Board of Trustees at the time, forced him out of his position.

When word of the cause of Bowden's resignation hit the press, John Denson, former member of the Board of Trustees and present attorney in Auburn, told the press he had no knowledge of the action taken by Lowder against Bowden.

"The fact that this was questioned by Denson enraged Lowder," Laband said.

Denson's ignorance of the issue showed that Lowder was keeping things from other members of the board, who might not have supported his decisions.

In retaliation to Denson's comment about Bowden, Lowder made sure to take away anything to do with Denson at Auburn, including eliminating the economics Ph.D program that he was involved with at the time, Laband said.

Laband said students currently in the economics Ph.D program were allowed to finish the program, but ultimately the program was eliminated by voting of the Board of Trustees.

"At that time we had demonstrated something like the fourth or fifth most productive P.hD programs at Auburn University in terms of number of students graduating," Laband said. "This was a very, very shocking event to the University."

Denson was the head of the economics program at the time. He also helped connect Auburn University with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a center to teach students Austrian economics.

Against the Auburn faculty's wishes, Lowder ensured the economics Ph.D program would not be allowed to accept any more students to the program.

"All but three of the Board of Trustees members voted to eliminate the economics Ph.D program," Denson said. "All but the objection of the president of the University, the provost and the faculty committee that were in charge of the program."

The Mises Institute left Auburn's campus shortly after.

Auburn's students lost scholarship opportunities once the Mises Institute left campus.

"When the program was eliminated, Mises Institute had to change its focus on just bringing students to take courses at the institute itself," Denson said.

With a changing of members of the Board of Trustees, discussion between President Gogue and Michael Stern, head of the economics department, allowed the economics Ph.D program to accept students once again starting June 2012.

The economics program now has changed with the times, Stern said.

"It is still an applied program," Stern said. "We will just be using a lot more statistical and mathematics techniques."

The economics program lost a lot of economics history professors when the program was frozen in 1999.

"Now we have professors that will teach macroeconomics and international economics, which we've never had in the past," Stern said. "We also have a health economist now, so health economics is really exploded within the discipline as a whole because the health care and aging of society is now 1/7 of the whole economy. Environmental economics has become more important as well."

Although working with the Auburn's economics program was beneficial, leaving Auburn's campus and moving off of West Magnolia allowed the Mises Institute to change for the better.

"We were growing very fast, and we were outgrowing the room that the University had given us in the College of Business," said Mark Thornton, senior fellow at the Mises Institute. "It sort of made sense that we realized we were outgrowing our facilities on campus at a time when the other branches of the College of Business were expanding, so it just made sense for us to move across the street."

Now that the economics Ph.D program is back, the Mises Institute helps Auburn as much as possible, Thorton said.

"When they need somebody to teach courses in the economics department, I'd been more than happy to do so," Thornton said. "There are certain courses that I know how to teach that they don't have any specialists for. I've also helped them by teaching some principle classes."

Denson said he is happy that the economics Ph.D program is back at Auburn.

"Bringing the Ph.D program back shows that the administration has control of the University again," Denson said. "I think it's a great thing for Dr. Gogue to bring it back. They're in the process of hiring new professors and getting the program going again."

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