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The Mob Lost and the System Won

Summary:
On June 12, I posted briefly about the efforts of Justin Wolfers and other economists to get Harald Uhlig fired from his position as editor of the Journal of Political Economy. Here’s what I wrote: I don’t know if he should be fired. I don’t know enough about how good an editor he is, which, in my view, is the only thing that should matter. Justin hasn’t made a case that he’s a bad editor. Rather, Justin doesn’t like what the editor, Harald Uhlig, said about Black Lives Matter(ing). That same day the University of Chicago placed Uhlig on leave as editor of the journal while it investigated the case. On June 22, the University announced that it had “completed a review of claims that a faculty member engaged in discriminatory conduct on the basis of race in a

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On June 12, I posted briefly about the efforts of Justin Wolfers and other economists to get Harald Uhlig fired from his position as editor of the Journal of Political Economy.

Here’s what I wrote:

I don’t know if he should be fired. I don’t know enough about how good an editor he is, which, in my view, is the only thing that should matter. Justin hasn’t made a case that he’s a bad editor. Rather, Justin doesn’t like what the editor, Harald Uhlig, said about Black Lives Matter(ing).

That same day the University of Chicago placed Uhlig on leave as editor of the journal while it investigated the case. On June 22, the University announced that it had “completed a review of claims that a faculty member engaged in discriminatory conduct on the basis of race in a University classroom.  The review concluded that at this time there is not a basis for a further investigation or disciplinary proceeding.” It presumably investigated the more serious charge made  by a former student that Uhlig had engaged in inappropriate behavior in a class the student attended. The student, Bocar A. Ba, tweeted:

I sat in your class in Winter 2014: (1) You talked about scheduling a class on MLK Day (2) You made fun of Dr. King and people honoring him (3) You sarcastically asked me in front of everyone whether I was offended Here is the receipt.

That was presumably what the University investigated.

I wrote Dr. Ba on June 13 to find out more about his allegation. He did not reply.

On June 23, Alice Yin, a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, wrote a news story about the investigation’s outcome. She writes:

Ba, who previously told the Tribune he wants to focus on his work, declined an interview, as did other academics who tweeted that they witnessed the apparent incident.

So this time the mob lost and the system won. By “system won,” I mean that the University seems to have investigated the serious charge and ignored the tweets that led to the original upset of Justin Wolfers and others, and, presumably finding not a clearcut case against Professor Uhlig, returned him to his job as editor.

I emphasize that I hold no brief for Professor Uhlig. I don’t know him and I don’t even know if I would like him if I did know him. I probably would because I like most people. But that’s not the point. People should not be axed from such jobs without good reasons for doing so. Highly inappropriate comments in class might be such a reason; sarcastic tweets are not.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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