“Kindling an Interest in Learning”

Jim Adams, Economics (large photo)

William James (Jim) Adams, a Thurnau Professor of Economics, focuses his research on business-related public policy issues. But Adams is also passionate about “kindling an interest in lifelong learning” in his students. Adams does this by ensuring that “paper assignments are provocative and challenging and require a lot of thinking and input on the part of the students.” He speaks of “creating an appetite for discovery, creating a sense of the pleasure of the life of the mind.”

Students in Adams’ classes can be found pouring over Supreme Court cases, which he has his undergraduates read “not so much for their legal content…but for the …economic policy issues that are in them. Adams prepares students broadly to write on policy issues that have an influence on their communities. “The kind of writing people are doing for my classes should be equally useful whether they are writing op-ed pieces for newspapers or writing legal opinions or writing for a think tank that is seeking to influence public policy or writing memoranda inside a business corporation or a government agency,” he says.

Adams wants his students to be able to “write for a policy community good, clean, easy-to-understand, jargon-free prose about economic policy issues.” They need to write concisely, compellingly, and authoritatively and “take a position on what ought to be done in a particular situation.” To develop these skills, Adams sequences his writing assignments so that students gradually build the skills they need for writing longer research papers:

  • First, students summarize a case that they have read, after they have gained some experience with interpreting cases in class.
  • Then they learn how to research a case and to justify their selection in writing.
  • Next, they summarize the relevant arguments in the case and “evaluate from an economist’s perspective the reasoning that’s been used.”
  • And last, they are asked to imagine a better policy and to explain why.

Students in Adams’ classes use words like “stimulating,” “enthusiastic,” and “passionate”-- to describe his teaching. They remark on how well-organized and interesting his lectures are, and how “intriguing” they find the course topics to be. One of his students summed up these sentiments by saying, “His enthusiasm was contagious.”