An Open Letter to the University of Chicago

An Open Letter to the University of Chicago

Dear Economics Department,

You probably don’t remember me, even though you send me mail occasionally (and–once a book. Thank you!). I graduated from The College in 2001 with a degree in Economics. I took graduate level classes from Robert Fogel and Gary Becker. I didn’t do so well in statistics but well enough in the econometrics that I was encouraged to take the advanced class. I graduated with the old core, took Russian Civ with Richard Hellie, and am still proud of a paper I wrote in a class on Chinese ghost stories.

I’m proud of my alma mater. I have a t-shirt, sweatshirt, hat, and sweatpants I love so much that I’ve worn a hole in them. I’m now a librarian and am proud of the history Chicago played in the development of librarianship in the United States. I credit my years at Chicago with my love for reading math books for fun. Those years contribute to my romance novels, which reviewers call “emotionally complex” and “thought provoking.”

This year was going to be the year I turned that pride into a donation. In fact, I was wearing my t-shirt and talking about that donation with my fiance when I opened the Department of Economics Newsletter (volume 3 issue 1) that had been sitting on my kitchen table.

“How much should we give?” I asked as I turned the page and stopped.

New faculty at the University of Chicago Economics department. They are all white men.

New faculty!

Suddenly, my drive to give was gone. Out of curiosity, I showed the picture to my twenty-year-old step-daughter. “Oh, yeah,” she said. I didn’t have to explain the problem to her. Pictures speak a thousand words.

If I learned anything at Chicago, it was not to make snap judgement. To investigate. To think. To question. So I went to the department websiteMaybe they aren’t all male. Maybe they aren’t all white. 

The faculty is not all male. Nor is it all white. Neither is the U.S. Senate or the current cabinet.

I had my own reasons for not pursuing my dream of becoming the chair person of the Federal Reserve or a professor of economics. But, as I look at the picture, would it have mattered? Were there already subtle signs that I wouldn’t have been welcome?

I’m not foolish enough to think my letter will make any impact on your hiring decisions, but I’ve still got money to give. So, I’m offering up a (admittedly small) donation to any highly-ranked economics department that has a black man, maybe 50% women (hell, I’d take 25%). Bonus points for (gasp!) a black woman.

Sincerely (and hoping for better),

Jennifer Lohmann

AB Economics, Class of 2001



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