The Frosh experience—from the other side of the lectern
Professor Hare, unlike many professors focused on research, has dedicated most of his career to lecturing. He has been with the Department of Economics for nearly a half-century. But even if you’re not an economics student, you may have found yourself in one of his intro courses. Certainly, many have.
Over the phone, Hare starts things off the way any economics professor should—by going over the numbers.
HARE: In my career of 50 years at U of T I am very proud to have taught over 32,000 students and 271 courses, and only about 10 of those were half courses. That’s 1962 to 2012. I'm writing a book on capitalism for relaxation. It keeps me busy, and I’m enjoying it.
Illustration/ Lucas Jose
ALLAN-BEST: Since you started your career in the 1960s, to now, has there been a change in who does come to your office?
HARE: Maybe with larger sizes I’d say there are fewer students coming to my office.
ALLAN-BEST: But is it more or less the same type of student?
HARE: We’re back to where students accept anything you say, [while] from the ’60s, ... they questioned everything you say. The ’60s were an interesting period.
But they don't, basically, come to my office, and I'm not sure they come to other faculty members’ offices either.
ALLAN-BEST: You said that before they used to question everything you say, and now they accept everything you say?
HARE: Oh, they questioned everything! You’d say “A + B = Z,” and they'd say, “No it doesn't, it equals something else!” The ’60s were the revolution of students not accepting anything, almost. It was an interesting time, but that changed in the ’70s.
You must understand, in economics, half our class is Oriental [sic]. I’m not biased there, it's just a fact of life. And they changed our class very much because they don't say anything in class, they just sit there and look at you, and take notes.
And they are interested, to a large degree, [and] in my opinion—though I don’t know why you’d want this in the article— they sort of memorize everything. They’d like you to give them ten points, lecture on the ten points, and then ask about the ten points on a test.
ALLAN-BEST: They’ll ask for the ten points, but will they question you on the ten points? Could you expand on that at all?
HARE: No, no, the Oriental [sic] group just accepts. They rarely challenge. They sit there and become just a pair of eyes. They change the complexion of the class.
They’re up to half of the class in there and they increase through time and they affect the nature of the class, the atmosphere of the class, et cetera, because they are non-participant, they are just sitting there. I think they do a lot of work outside the class, and they have their own groups. But I’m not sure about that.
ALLAN-BEST: Would you say that for first year students it would be worthwhile and useful for them to have a knowledge of economics just in dealing with any other course they might have?
HARE: Since the Second World War, economics is almost always on the front page.... It’s important to understand the principles of economics if you want to go into business, or lots of other areas.
ALLAN-BEST: Even though you’ve been doing this for quite a long time, ... do you still prepare each lecture individually?
HARE: My best lectures were always when I was a bit nervous before giving it.... When you get in the classroom, what was important was respect for students, humility. There are students there who are much smarter than you are, and you had to be fair with them, and honest.... If I had to put one word forward for education at any level, it’s understanding. Not memory work, not this fact or that fact, but understanding.
ALLAN-BEST: Do you work off notes when you’re presenting the lecture?
HARE: Yes, ... and I keep reworking the notes each year so that changes are possible, so I just don’t do the [same] old thing.... What students don’t understand is sometimes the lecturer is very, very nervous about the presentation. They want it to be good; they want it to be clear.
ALLAN-BEST: Inside your office, what does it look like?
HARE: [It’s] very simple inside my office. I have a library room, [so] most of my books are stacked— usually—at home, and I take down whatever sources I have for that day.... It’s almost like a prison in a way, not for the reasons of being a prison, but it's rather sparse....
ALLAN-BEST: Anything you want to add?
HARE: You are coming from a system where the week is dedicated in high school.... In university, a course goes for [only] two hours a week, usually.... It’s easy to throw your lecture notes off to the side.... There should be a plan there, and the better the plan the better the [more] likely success story....
In my opinion, There's no such thing as a failure at university.... It’s a marvelous place to exchange information, to debate, to do all kinds of things. You should become active.…
People forget that education is a consumer good, too. Not only will it earn you more money and open more doors for yourself, ... you’ll never be the same as you were before....
ALLAN-BEST: You’ve given me a lot to think about.
HARE: There's nothing wrong with changing your program.... What are the consequences in your life? You graduate two years later.... Two years of your lifetime earnings you might not have, but that’s very small when you look at the rest of it.... Go into astronomy, go into religion, go into China, Asia. China’s going to be the coming thing.... Maybe that excites you.... So many people don’t change and they go through their life with a chip on their shoulder.
ALLAN-BEST: Thank you.
HARE: Relax [and] understand, those are two words I’d want to give to new students coming in.
And enjoy. I’ll add a third, a triumvirate.
You can contact Fraser Allan-Best, Comment Editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org