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Statement from Duke Economics regarding controversial study

Over the past two weeks, reaction to the unpublished paper “What Happens After Enrollment?” by Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban Aucejo and Kenneth Spenner has generated a great deal of discussion across campus. The analysis raises important questions about curriculum, major choice and admissions policy and, not surprisingly, has led to considerable debate about the interpretation and implications of its results.

Many aspects of this debate are healthy and we as an academic community should embrace rather than avoid the opportunity to engage in a broad conversation about these issues. However, it is crucial that the discussion remains focused on substantial issues rather than devolving into broad accusations of racism and ad hominem attacks on the authors, which are unwarranted and unhelpful. In the climate that such charges create, it becomes almost impossible to have a genuine academic debate on these important issues.

A central finding of the study is that despite entering with similar ambitions regarding major choice, black students disproportionately move away from the sciences, engineering and economics. The under-representation of black and Hispanic students in these majors is an issue that is not unique to Duke but rather common to many universities throughout the country and, as a result, the number of black and Hispanic scholars in graduate programs, in careers and on faculties in these disciplines remains disproportionately low. Over the past decade, recognizing the scale of this challenge, Duke Economics has taken a number of steps that aim to have an impact that is national in scope. From 2004 to 2007, our department hosted the American Economics Association’s Summer Program, which prepares talented black, Hispanic and Native American undergraduates for doctoral programs. Our department’s MA program also provides substantial scholarship support for black, Native American and Hispanic students on an ongoing basis. Eight recent recipients of these scholarships are now working to complete Ph.D.’s in top departments around the country. Department faculty have also been working to expand career opportunities in finance for underrepresented minority students from all majors through the Center for Financial Economics. The number of black and Hispanic students obtaining internships and full-time jobs in the financial markets has quadrupled since the start of the program in 2007.

While these efforts are having an impact, more work remains to be done. Our department is strongly committed to expanding opportunities for all students regardless of race, ethnicity or gender and there should be absolutely no doubt that we encourage all students to take courses and major in economics. It is our hope that we can use the attention surrounding this study as a springboard for further innovation and we welcome the opportunity to meet with individual students or student groups at any time.

Patrick Bayer, chair, Department of Economics

Charles Becker, associate chair, Department of Economics

Thomas Nechyba, director of Ecoteach, Department of Economics


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