The newly established Marriner S. Eccles Institute for Economics and Quantitative Analysis at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business will provide some philosophical balance to the university’s educational offerings and scholarship on economics, and it will further position the university to produce what Utah needs — an educated workforce.
The institute, which was made possible by gifts from the Eccles family and Koch foundations, is an unequivocal win for students, the state and the University of Utah’s burgeoning world-class business reputation.
For the better part of a century, Castro’s Cuba and the University of Utah’s economics department seemed like the last bastions of Marxist thought in North America — with the latter being subsidized by local tax dollars.
It all started when a few left-leaning social scientists migrated to the U. in search of strong tenure protections during the red scare era. From there the department attracted other like-minded economists.
In recent years, prominent Marxist scholars such as Emery Kay Hunt and Hans G. Ehrbar have defined the ethos of the university’s unorthodox department. Even today, the University of Utah remains one of the few universities to still offer some economics courses from a Marxian perspective.
Now, thanks to a generous $10 million gift from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation and the Marriner S. Eccles Foundation, along with a matching $10 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation, local students will be exposed to a more academically vibrant suite of economic ideas.
Wisely, the university isn’t trying to eliminate or change its storied economics department, which is housed in the College of Social & Behavioral Science, but rather, the U’s business school is helping to expand the kind of scholarship and class offerings available to those interested in economics on campus.
The institute plans to hire seven new faculty members. This should bolster the business school’s scholarly stature and support its ability to offer a new degree in Quantitative Analysis of Markets & Organizations — essentially an economics degree with a focus on data analysis and practical business application.
The program couldn’t come at a more apropos time in the state’s economic history.
Major Utah employers such as Goldman Sachs, Qualtrics and many others now thrive on well-tuned data analytics. Taylor Randall, dean of the David Eccles School of Business, explained that in the process of designing its new major, the business school researched what skills students would need to remain competitive in the local workforce. The research is reflected in the degree’s pragmatic, economics-oriented curriculum.
With the involvement of the Koch Foundation, there will undoubtedly be some who claim that the new institute is now ideologically beholden to the well-known conservative brothers Charles and David Koch. For example, after the Koch Foundation announced a separate gift at Utah State University earlier this year, protesters projected an image of the billionaire brothers on the side of the school’s building with text, reading: “SOLD! Utah State University Respected research institution! $25,000,000." But, that ignores the commitment to education and gifts to 300 institutions, including Stanford, Harvard and Brown, that the Koch Foundation has provided.
Yet, most Utahns will recognize that along with the joint gifts from the Eccles and Koch foundations, the new institute, the new faculty and the new major will serve as windfalls for the state and will, at long last, allow for a full spectrum of economic perspectives to receive a fair hearing at the state’s flagship campus.