Jack Soper: a pioneer in economic education.

Author:Clark, J.R.
  1. Introduction

    Professor John "Jack" Soper passed away on August 9, 2013. Born on May 16, 1937, in Boston, Soper earned his BA in philosophy at Tufts and his MA and PhD in economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. A prolific researcher, he earned tenure at both Northern Illinois University and John Carroll University. At the latter institution, he rose quickly through the ranks, eventually becoming a full professor and holder of the John J. Kahl Sr. Chair in Entrepreneurship. John Carroll University honored Soper upon his retirement by giving him emeritus status and creating the John C. Soper Award in Social Entrepreneurship. A leading light in the field of economic education, Soper played an important role in establishing the field.

    Jack also served several terms on the board of the Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE), helping the young organization grow. In addition to his board duties, he was an active member of the editorial board of the Journal of Private Enterprise, helping to shape the journal's economic education section. As one longtime member told us, "He was a very positive influence on APEE for a very long time." Jack was the first to propose and insist upon APEE not running budgetary deficits--ever. As APEE attendees remember, he established a literal tradition of standing up at every APEE business meeting to inquire when APEE was going to go to a system of accrual accounting as opposed to accounting on a cash basis so that he could continue to bash APEE finances at will. In addition to his longtime service to the organization, he was a mentor and a guiding light to many of its members. APEE honored him with its Distinguished Scholar Award in 1994.

    In this brief educational note, we summarize Soper's key contributions to the field of economic education and conclude with a few personal observations regarding the man and scholar. (1)

  2. Economic Man in the Classroom

    From his earliest papers, Soper was concerned with better understanding what went on in the economics classroom at the college level and how it could be improved. In 1972, he published an article with Alan Nichols in the Journal of Political Economy titled "Economic Man in the Classroom." At the time, student evaluations of instructors were not widespread, and there was concern but little evidence that student evaluations were positively related to the instructor's giving of higher grades. Into the breach stepped Nichols and Soper (1972) with data from over 339 social science sections at Central Michigan University. They found that instructors giving grades that were one grade higher than average, other things being equal, could be expected to have a one-half point increase (on a four-point scale) in student evaluations of their teaching quality. This finding has subsequently been confirmed in a number of studies. (2) The next year Soper (1973a) published a follow-up paper on student evaluations in the Journal of Economic Education showing that there was no relationship between student evaluations and student learning. While this result ended up being atypical for studies on this topic, Soper was on the forefront of bringing an economist's eye and modeling to the issue. (3)

    As was the case with grade inflation, Soper was also on the cutting edge of describing, disseminating, and evaluating other important trends in economic education during the 1970s. The widespread use of large lecture classes, especially at state universities trying to deal with the booming enrollments of the time, was forcing all instructors to try to find ways to economize on scarce classroom time while maintaining or improving student...

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