Historian Thomas Carlyle nicknamed economics “the dismal science” – but for the past 48 years, Professor Michael Hare has made it his mission to disprove that. With nearly half a century of teaching under his belt, Hare is one of the longest-serving instructors in the history of the university. As befits a meticulous social scientist, he’s kept records on how many students he’s taught: an astounding 32,638, to be exact, spread out over 269 courses. Despite his experience, he still gets nervous. “If I’m delivering a good lecture I usually get a little excited beforehand. Students probably wouldn’t know that, but I still do.”
Hare has seen many changes in campus life since he first came to the university, fresh from graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The students of the early 1960s were very meek and hardly challenged the instructor,” he says. As the decade progressed, students became more inquisitive and confrontational, only to change again in the ’70s: “Students reverted back to being very meek.”
Class sizes in the economics department increased substantially after 1980; Hare says the advent of 400-student classes has definitely made teaching more challenging. On the positive side, he has noted increasing interest in economic issues. Fittingly, one of the signature courses he’s developed – ECO105 – is geared specifically to non-specialists. It’s a rare blend of policy and theory that addresses some of the most important issues of our time: productivity, poverty reduction in the global south, the debt crisis in Latin America, sustainable development and other environmental concerns.
Indeed, Hare’s wide range of extracurricular activities has reflected, and even presaged, events of economic importance. Back in the 1970s, before recycling became commonplace, he acted as a waste-management consultant, with specific expertise in beverage containers. More recently, Hare has acted as a tourism consultant to the government of Barbados, a destination he frequently visited with his late wife and treasured helpmate, Marion. “She was my partner and supporter, and a mentor to our three children. Without her I wouldn’t have been able to teach for as long as I have.”
Although he formally retired from the university 12 years ago, Hare plans to keep teaching on a part-time basis, at least until he reaches the 50-year mark. (He also plans to write a book on the future of capitalism.) Hare, 78, takes pride in the applause that often concludes his lectures; the former students who stop him in the street to thank him; the many young people he’s taught who’ve gone on to achieve success (including U of T president David Naylor, who studied under him 37 years ago). “Education is important,” he says. “Nobody fails at university. An academic failure may occur, but frontiers have been opened to you. You’ll never be the same again.”