Monday, July 1, 2013

Why Samuelson moved from Harvard to MIT...

From a draft article by Backhouse on why Harvard let go of Samuelson
"In subsequent recollections, Samuelson credited Harold [Freeman, MIT Assoc Professor, and former fellow student with Samuelson] with responsibility for his move. Harold persuaded the Department Head, Ralph Freeman that not only was Samuelson a good scholar, but he would work with others. Later I learned from Ralph, who became a dear friend, how Harold operated. Rhodes Scholar Ralph said, “I know Paul is a good scholar, but is he a cooperator?” Never at a loss, Harold replies, “Is Samuelson a cooperator? Why the man writes joint articles.”

"The basis for this claim was the article Samuelson had written with his fellow-student Russ Nixon. Samuelson also said that it was Harold who talked him into taking the job."

Backhouse argues there were lots of reasons other than antisemitism for Harvard not retaining Samuelson. In essence, Samuelson was too mathematical, too limited (not agricultural econ, or labor econ,...)--but I also believe that his mathematical work would have been rejected by advocates of Deutsche Mathematik (not enough intuition, too rigorous and abstract). But of course it is just what they called Deutsche Mathematik that represented the old way of doing things, the ongoing revolution in mathematics by many Germans and especially eventually the French--for example, Andre Weil, founder of Bourbaki, not at all Deutsche Mathematik.

Backhouse is from a conference about how the MIT economics department became so good. Here’s something from that conference on Jews in economics by Roy Weintraub.

His point is that MIT was not about Kultur and Bildung, while most of the universities still had that in mind in terms of Western Civilization.
Columbia introduced its great books courses (around 1925) when it realized that its students included many "Jews" (including comparatively recent immigrants who were surely not Jewish) who were not part of the elites who had been inculcated with that Western Civ tradition--that Western Civ tradition being rather more denying of the influence of Judaism on what they thought of as Christianity (historically, a Judaic sect).

[Columbia and most of the Ivies eventually had quotas for (immigrant) Jews (too many were being admitted by grades etc.), not really ending until well after WWII. (My class of '64 was known as Dudley's Folly since it was much based on scores and grades, and so had too many men of the wrong sort. Dudley was let go as admissions officer. See below on Dudley's Folly.] See Karabel's book.  These universities wanted to have "real men," not these nerdy intellectual types. Harvard had a "happy bottom quarter," of men who who would not excel at SAT-like scores or grades, but who would contribute to the atmosphere of the place.]
From Jews of Brooklyn, an interview with writer Phil Lopate on Dudley's Folly (Sorry for the cut-in-two of the page)