By Joe Wlos
The Economics Department reorganized its classes this week after the resignation of Professor Brian Swart. The College needed to find replacement professors for all of his classes as a result of his departure.
“Professors can resign—it happens,” Vice President of Academic Affairs Paula Smith said. “The middle of the semester is very rare. That is really unusual. That did indeed leave us focusing on the needs of the students and keeping continuity in these classes.”
Smith and Economics Department Chair Keith Brouhle declined to comment on the reasons for Swart’s resignation, citing the privacy of the professor.
Swart was teaching an introductory Economics course, a 200-level class on empirical methods in economics and a seminar on economics and education. He resigned on Friday, September 28. Smith worked with Brouhle to implement a viable plan to replace Swart by October 8.
Above all, we had the student experience in mind,” Smith said. “We wanted to make sure that their academic experience was disrupted as little as possible and that they would have a comparable experience for the rest of the semester.”
“It was very important to have the courses move forward,” Brouhle said. “We wanted to maintain the content of the syllabus that was handed out at the beginning of the classes.”
Brouhle, who was already teaching an intro, took over the 100-level class, while Professor Mark Montgomery jumped into the seminar. However, the empirical methods course required a more “creative solution.” The College asked alumnus Ben Jones ’03, who is working as a math instructor at Iowa Valley Community College, to fill in for that class.
“If we could, we decided to try to have Grinnell professors teach the classes,” Smith said, “because we thought that would be the most desirable and highest quality way to solve the problem. In a way, we were able to do that with all three classes.”
Jones has no history of teaching economics courses, but the administration decided that he would work well in the position, given his mathematics background and familiarity with the College’s academics—he also taught a statistics course in 2009, after a similar resignation situation. His only experience in economics was in his first-year introductory class with Professor Paul Munyon, in the same classroom that Jones now teaches Empirical Methods.
“I usually view statistics as an applied science,” Jones said, explaining why he is familiar with the course material. “All the topics are statistic topics. They’re all topics that I have taught or have thought about teaching at some level.”
He moved back to Grinnell in 2008, after studying at Iowa State University and teaching at Simpson College. He also bartends at Lonnski’s.
To accommodate Jones’s schedule with Iowa Valley, the College asked students in Empirical Methods of Economics to change their class’s meeting time. Under Swart, the class met at 8:30AM on Mondays and Wednesdays. Now, the class meets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8:00AM.
“In terms of [the students’] schedule, they had the time available, and it was really the only way to make this happen,” Smith said. “I’m very grateful to them, because I know that some of them probably did not like that. I haven’t heard any complaints, though, directly. I know that it probably wasn’t easy, but it was the only way to keep the class going.”
Montgomery is now teaching Swart’s seminar class, Economics of Education. Brouhle said that this course was one of the most important considerations, because of the student’s “high level of work.” Montgomery was the logical choice for the job, because he taught the class in the past.
“The syllabus of Professor Swart is very much like mine,” Montgomery said. “It hasn’t been dramatically different to pick it up.”
Although he had to make some sacrifices to find time for the class—a research project he was working on with his wife has been put on hold—he is happy he is able to help.
“I had to do it,” Montgomery said. “It had to be covered. These people have to graduate.”
The College is now focused on finding a replacement for Swart for the spring semester.
“Even if it still says ‘staff’ when preregistration comes around, that means we’re still trying to get a solution that is good enough for Grinnell students,” Smith said. “We will try to have a name there by that time, because students like to preregister knowing who the professor will be, but if that’s not the case, it’s just because our standards are too high, and we haven’t yet found a solution [that is] good enough.”