March 2017 – Story #2

Our School and schools like it, emphasize skills that are needed to do well in statistics and economics courses, in courses that are based in theoretical structures and applying them in a fairly schematic way. Yet there are other skills in policy, planning, and development practice, perhaps orthogonal to the quantitative and the theoretical, which involve the capacity to lead, organize, and argue rationally and with empathy–the human domain, let us call them. In general, you can get into the best graduate schools, or undergraduate schools, and graduate with good grades, achieve a PhD and become a productive and honored professor with a modicum of the human domain skills. However, from our own research, we know that effective practitioners in our fields almost always are endowed with strong human domain skills and may or may not be strong in the quantitative/theoretical. In other words, the professional schools in our fields are likely to be missing out on the profession’s most effective actors.

It may turn out that the lack of strong human domain skills–klutziness–is of no import. In fact, I doubt that is the case. Imagine if we could admit students with very strong potential in the human domain, or equip the klutzes with a modicum of such skills. But for the moment we are likely to be having both students and faculty who are higher in klutziness than would be desirable. I suspect that we would have a different composition of students by the conventional diversity and inclusion criteria were we to admit based on human domain skills and potential as well as on quantitative/theoretical potential.

Put differently, our selection criteria for students and faculty bias us in ways that do not serve the fields we aim to train, and mostly reproduce the faculty composition, albeit in an attenuated form.