Re: [OPE-L] Remembering Bob Heilbroner

From: Francisco Paulo Cipolla (cipolla@UFPR.BR)
Date: Mon Jan 17 2005 - 14:17:47 EST

Hi Jerry!
When did exactly you take Heilbronerīs HET? I think it was in 1981 for I
remember your very participative presence in some oval table wehere questions
were discussed, I think, under his presence.
What stroke me in those 1981 classes taught by Heilbroner was that he would
read whole sentences in front of large audiences. I must tell though that he
knew which quotes to make for they were really illustrative of a point he was
making at the moment.
That year, as was probably his custom, Heilbroner distributed a handout
explaining what one should avoid while writing a paper. That handout
encouraged a direct writing, without dubious or inapropriately exclamative
sentences. It made an impression on me for some of the things I was not
supposed to do were indeed part of my habit. I wrote on Ricardoīs theory of
value. Got an A.

Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM wrote:

> Remembering Bob Heilbroner takes me back a few years.
> In the Fall of 1976,  when I  enrolled in the graduate program
> in the Economics Department at the New School for Social
> Research (now "New School University" -- yuck!) Bob
> Heilbroner was the best known faculty member.   He was also
> the best known graduate _of_ the  Economics  Department --
> he had studied with Adolph Lowe (who was a professor emeriti
> in '76 who occasionally -- depending on his health -- offered
> seminars) many years before and _The Worldly Philosophers_
> was accepted in lieu of a dissertation.
> Adolph Lowe (a fascinating and important figure in his own right)
> was his most influential mentor.  Lowe, I believe, was
> especially influential in encouraging him to seriously study
> methodology and the history of thought.  Politically, they were
> not all that dissimilar either -- both were social democrats.
> Within the Department, Heilbroner taught courses mainly in the
> history of economic thought -- most notably the 100-level
> 2-semester  HET sequence which most  of the new students
> enrolled in (the first semester was a required course for an M.A.
> in political economy).   That's how I first met him.
> I thought he was an excellent teacher -- but he did have a rather
> dry style.  He mostly lectured and wasn't exactly very animated
> in the classroom.  But, he was always well-prepared and
> knowledgeable.  He encouraged discussion in the classroom --
> even though these were big classes -- but generally got few
> takers.
> I will never forget the first day of  that class.  The class of perhaps
> 70 students was stunned by his demanding requirements and
> expectations: he told all present (mostly new students like myself)
> that if they received a final grade below A- then they should
> consider that to be a failing grade and should consider dropping-out
> of graduate school!
> Once you got to know him, though,  he was a very likeable and
> supportive faculty member.  Like the rest of the economics faculty
> at the NSSR,  he preferred to be called by his first name.  All of
> the students called him Bob.  This level of informality was a distinctive
> feature of the Department and was a progressive practice  intended to
> break-down the traditional lines of demarcation that separate faculty
> from students.   Like most of the other faculty, he also attended social
> functions sponsored  by the Department and/or the Economics Society
> -- the student organization that represented students (with voice and
> vote!) at  Department meetings.   If he saw promise in a student, he
> would go  out of his way to talk to and encourage that person.  Even
> though he socialized, he was actually a rather shy person who, one
> could sense,  felt awkward at such occasions.
> He had a very good -- but unappreciated -- sense of humor.  In the
> classroom, he had such a dry sense of humor that most students
> didn't even recognize it.  I remember on several occasions he made
> humorous comments  (I can't remember what they were now) and
> hardly anyone recognized them for what they were.  One time he
> made a joke in class and I started laughing.  All eyes were on me --
> other students glared at me quizzically as if to ask 'why is Jerry
> laughing?'.    It made me wonder whether it wasn't a joke after
> all -- but Bob reassured me with a twinkle of acknowledgement
> and a half-smile.   Another occasion comes to mind.  After my
> first semester I was elected a representative of the Economics
> Society and, along with the other representatives and most of the
> faculty, we were waiting in a seminar room for the Department
> meeting to begin.  Ross Thomson -- who was at the time a new
> faculty member who taught the "Introduction to Political
> Economy" sequence (a 2 semester required course in the p.e.
> program on reading the three volumes of _Capital_) -- complained
> about all of the time it was taking him to read and grade the
> student papers for his courses.  Ross had a reputation for
> meticulously reading papers and making copious comments.
> Anyway, Ross asked Bob how he managed.  Bob said -- with
> a perfectly straight face -- that his system is to make a pile of
> all of the papers and throw them up in the air.  Those that
> landed on one side of the room passed and those that fell on the
> other side failed!  Not a single person in the room laughed.
> Not a single person smiled or smirked.  A pregnant pause ensued.
> During the pause, everyone else looked at each other as if to
> ask "You don't think he's serious, do you?".  Finally, one of the
> student representatives (Robert U?) asked "You don't really do
> that, do you?".   Slowly -- with a timing that a professional
> comic would have appreciated -- a big smile came to Bob's face.
> No one questioned Bob's integrity.  He treated everyone fairly
> and, if he thought that someone within the Dept. was wronged,
> would fight tirelessly on that person's behalf.    He was
> distressed, however, by the intrigue that sometimes accompanied
> faculty hirings and re-hirings.  He found it .. well ... unseemly and
> distasteful.  At the end of my first year, two political economy
> faculty members were not being re-hired (primarily due to complaints
> from students who objected to their theoretical perspectives!) --
> Alfredo Medio and Harry Cleaver (who, as you know, went on
> to make important contributions and have outstanding careers).
> Well, I had a bright idea.  I went to Bob's office and asked if I
> could speak to him.   When I mentioned Alfredo and Harry a
> pained look came over his face.  I suggested that the students and
> faculty sponsor a going away party for the outgoing faculty members
> and asked him if he thought it was a good idea.  A _huge_ smile
> came across his face and he reached into his wallet and handed me
> three $20 bills. And that's how we were able to have a going
> away party.
> There were many things in the late 1970's that made the New School
> Economics Department unique (e.g. over 90% of the students
> considered themselves to be Marxist and all but 3 faculty members
> also considered themselves to be Marxist; there was only one
> truly mainstream marginalist faculty member [David
> Schwartzman -- whose specialization was industrial
> organization]).  One such thing was the _emphasis_ within
> the Dept. on the history of economic thought and methodology.
> More than any other faculty member,  Bob Heilbroner was
> responsible for this emphasis.  Under his tutelage, several
> generations of NSSR students were able to specialize in
> these areas and write HET dissertations -- including many
> on Marx and classical political economy.  This contrasted
> sharply with other Economics Departments around the
> country and the world which de-valued HET and
> discouraged and even prevented students from studying and
> writing dissertations on HET.    Even today, most Eco.
> Depts. do not take HET seriously.
> Within the NSSR, he helped to stimulate the study of HET.
> Outside of the NSSR,  he was influential in popularizing
> HET -- most notably with the best-selling book, _The
> Worldly Philosophers_.   I suspect that his popular books
> -- of which there were many -- will be what he will be most
> remembered for by those who never attended the NSSR.
> Former students -- like myself -- will remember him for
> so much more.
> In solidarity, Jerry

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