Jim Hartley

Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching

Economics, when taught by Jim Hartley, is not a dismal science.   His rapid fire expositions, delivered without notes, are vivid and funny, and employ riveting stories to illustrate abstract concepts. ‘This takes skill and talent,” one student observed, and “Hartley’s got it.”  “He deserves a red chili pepper.”

When leading discussions, Jim often plays the Devil’s advocate, asking provocative questions and challenging students to think for themselves.  He is not afraid to defend positions with which he disagrees, or to be “politically incorrect,” if necessary, to ignite a good discussion or goad careless thinkers into questioning their own assumptions.

As a lecturer, Jim is “lively and dynamic,” as well as “passionate and wise.”  Dressed in khaki shorts, even in the depth of winter, he makes the learning of difficult concepts enjoyable – so enjoyable, one student reported, that she spent an entire dinner with her parents “recreating his lecture about hyperinflation in Zimbabwe.”   

In this age of specialization, when most professors strive to know more and more about less and less, while parents fret about employability, Jim champions learning for its own sake.  He teaches economics, but places its concepts in the context of great literature.  He is not here to prepare students for a life on Wall Street.  If they need to develop tunnel vision, they can do so in graduate school.  College, for Jim, is where students ought to jump start their imaginations, make connections across disciplines, and begin the lifelong process of becoming well educated, richly cultured individuals.

To this end, Jim has integrated his love of great books into his teaching of introductory economics. At first he did this to make economics seem less boring to first-year students. Then he realized how much students were missing in a curriculum dominated by specialists and debunkers.  So, at the risk of being dismissed as  old-fashioned, Jim invited Thucydides, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Austen,  and Thoreau to join his economics courses, and  went on to develop a first year seminar on Western Civilization.

At the same time, Jim is a master at helping students to pursue their own, or their parents’, dreams.  He has directed our summer program of job-oriented courses, taught Leadership and the Liberal Arts, directed our first-year seminar program, and lectured at business schools in India. Students praise the wisdom of his counseling, his attentiveness to their concerns, and his perpetually open door.

At his core, however, Jim Hartley wants students to appreciate learning for its own sake. Like many of his colleagues at Mount Holyoke, he believes that the habits of thought this institution fosters, when taught rigorously throughout a diverse curriculum, will carry students further, and give them a richer and more rewarding life, than courses more narrowly calculated to help them get their first job.

Jim is the epitome of excellence in the liberal arts.