During his tenure at Rollins, retiring professor Eric Schutz helped the economics department chart a pluralistic course.
Eric Schutz in front of his favorite painting in the Cornell Hall for the Social Sciences, The Fourth Estate by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo. (Photo by Judy Watson Tracy)
Back in 1987, Eric Schutz had just earned tenure. He was six years out of his PhD program, teaching at Keene State College in New Hampshire, a small school in a small town just north of the Massachusetts border. He was on track to chair the school’s economics department.
And then he moved. Not just to a new school, but 1,000 miles south, to Rollins College, where he would go through the rigmarole of becoming an associate professor and attaining tenure all over again in a new, foreign place. But he had family here. His wife had family here. Keene had a heavier teaching load than he liked. His wife didn’t cotton to the New England weather.
Most importantly, Schutz says, he was impressed by what the Rollins economics department was trying to do and the school’s overall direction: “extremely liberal arts and progressively oriented,” as he puts it. More specifically, the economics department was charting a relatively rare, pluralistic course, one that did not exclusively hew to the mainstream, neoclassical economics philosophy, but incorporated radical and Marxist and alternative viewpoints. The neoclassicists, he says, too often lack a sense of the politics and history of economics.
“It’s pretty dry and lifeless in terms of policy,” Schutz says. In other words, boring and useless. He wanted to find the opposite of that. Rollins offered him that opportunity.
Schutz became the department’s resident Marxist.
“It was really fun to watch the thing blossom over the years into a really pluralist program,” he says. In the late ’90s, after Schutz had again been granted tenure, those pluralist tendencies were codified into the department’s curriculum. Students could take courses on radical economics if they wanted. Courses on historical and alternative economic perspectives became part of the core program. They focused on the classics, of course, but also a series of ad hoc courses that spun off from hot topics. Schutz’s included Distribution of Income and Wealth, Marxian/Radical Political Economy, and, most recently Limits to Growth.
He and his colleagues developed a fondness for “weird stuff”—not weird to them, but material not often covered in other economics programs.
Students back then—15, 20 years ago—were more receptive to these courses than they have been recently, Schutz says, a fact he attributes to a generation having been reared in a very conservative, post-Reagan era. During the George W. Bush administration, with political conservatism at its most ferocious peak, “it was pretty hard to teach courses on some of the things some of us like to do.”
Still, many of the courses were always full—even if the students didn’t like the content, they liked the challenge. And that is, fundamentally, what Schutz believes the goal should be: “to create thoughtful, competent citizens. Economics is a really fundamental part of that. So we’re right in the middle of that. What the vast majority of economics programs do is not that.”
Much of Schutz’s writing while at Rollins has been reflective of his ideological bent, and dedicated to the relationship between power—political, cultural—and economics, a subject he believes too many economists ignore. In 2011, he wrote a book called Inequality & Power: The Economics of Class, which posits that power and social class are the primary drivers of the widening gulf between rich and poor. A decade before that, he wrote Markets & Power: The 21st Century Command Economy, which castigated economists for not taking power into consideration as an economic force and called for a better democratization of the economy.
He also has been an outspoken activist for social justice causes. For five or six years in the mid to late ’90s, he organized the “Common Ground” conferences at Rollins in conjunction with the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice that featured luminaries of the political left—Jim Hightower, Winona LaDuke, Manning Marable. He also hosted a series among faculty members to facilitate interdisciplinary discussions between, say, economists and social scientists.
By the early 2000s, Schutz had become an activist, a champion of a proposal to compel the Orange County government and its contractors to pay their employees a livable wage (in this case, a little more than $10 an hour). In collaboration with two Rollins students—both of whom became valedictorians—Schutz conducted the research that became the driving force behind the campaign. Forty percent of Central Florida’s workforce, he found, earned less than a living wage. The region thrived on cheap labor, which he felt was immoral. In the end, the campaign managed to get the county to raise the salaries of 66 employees to a full-time level—which was something, if below expectations. The city of Orlando, however, endorsed a living wage policy following Buddy Dyer’s election in 2003.
“That was a real accomplishment, I thought,” Schutz says.
Schutz is retiring now, he says, because he’s tired of teaching a full course load; he would prefer if there were some sort of gradual retirement system in place, which of course there isn’t. He’ll stick around, teaching one course a semester or so. Schutz will also volunteer—with the farmworkers in Apopka, with the group advocating for mandatory paid sick leave for workers, for a group in Miami called the Research Institute for Social and Economics Progress. And he’ll do typical retirement things: walk his dog, play his guitar, take pictures.
He loves teaching, he says, but “I’m one of those people who believe life is not about work, work is about life. My life is not about teaching, believe it or not.”