On Monday a group of Yale students interrupted Professor Robert Shiller’s Intro to Macroeconomics class with a sad attempt to mock him for talking about his Nobel Prize during class, according to a columnist in the Yale News.
Here’s how it went down: As Shiller was a lecturing, a bunch of cell phones started going off. One student shouted, “rise!” Then a bunch of students stood up, holding bells. A boy and a girl walked down to the podium. They handed Shiller a few things — a paper and a scroll.
“For talking about your Nobel Prize more than anyone else, we present you with the Yes-bell Prize,” said one of the bell-carriers.”
After that, a number of students grabbed their belongings and left. No one laughed.
Why would you? It sounds ridiculous.
Shiller won the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences last year for essentially predicting two of the biggest financial bubbles of our time — the dot.com bubble and the housing bubble. You can read all about it in his book, Irrational Exuberance.
“He found that stock prices fluctuate much more than corporate dividends, and that the ratio of prices to dividends tends to fall when it is high, and to increase when it is low,” said the Nobel Committee. “This pattern holds not only for stocks, but also for bonds and other assets.
Exciting stuff. I’d talk about it all day. Shiller doesn’t though, he spends some of his days teaching an Intro to Macroeconomics class to a bunch of 18 and 19 year-old kids. Brilliant kids, but just kids.
Anyone else can benefit from his teaching too, because Shiller put all the lectures from his 2008 class online for free.
What that all says is that Shiller is an individual who cares about enriching the world. He does not lock himself in an ivory tower as many Ivy League professors do. What he knows is useful, it is impactful, it is vital that we understand it — and so he shares it.
For students to show any disrespect for that suggests an incredibly rotten sense of entitlement.
Zach Young, a guest columnist for the Yale News, agrees. He called the prank “the glorified bullying of a Yale teacher.”
As a faculty member, Shiller deserves a baseline of respect. The success of any class depends on an environment of trust and respect. Trust allows students and faculty to openly share their ideas and questions without fear of being judged. A sense of mutual respect makes academic debate, which aims to arrive at a better understanding of the material, possible. By mocking him, the bell-ringers violated the trust and respect that underlies constructive learning, and dismissed Shiller’s experience as an educator. They broke an unwritten rule at the core of the student-teacher relationship.
Plus it doesn’t sound funny. If you’re going to be a brat, at least be funny.