Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Economics Department
Annapolis - U.S. Naval Academy, 1853. Woodblock print from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper: 1853 March 26

The Evolution of Economics Instruction at USNA

The Origins of the Economics Major (1933-1970)

No mention is made of economics being taught at the Naval Academy until the academic year 1933-34 when the newly formed Department of Economics and Government began to offer 2 hours per week in the fall term and 3 hours in the spring term to first class midshipmen. The instruction was..."designed to give the midshipmen an understanding of economic terms and reasoning, and their applications to modern conditions." The text for both terms was Rufener's Principles of Economics, and since the "lock-step" curriculum prevailed at the time, all midshipmen received the same course before they graduated. Three years later the Department of Economics and Government was merged with English and History to become the Department of English, History, and Government; subsequently, economics was dropped from the curriculum as a course of instruction.

The next decade saw only a cursory nod paid to economics education. The second class midshipmen received a course of lectures titled "Trends of Social and Economic Events, 1900-1938" during the summer terms of 1939 and 1940. In 1940, the Executive Department, headed by the Commandant, gave first class midshipmen one period per week of instruction in economics and personal finance which did not appear as part of their academic training. Over the next several years this instruction of one hour per week evolved into a course called "Leadership and Personal Finance", which was described as encompassing finance, insurance, and elementary economics. No academic credit was given.

This pattern of instruction prevailed until academic year 1947-48 when economics re-entered the mainstream of academics at the Academy. During that academic year, second class midshipmen were required to take introductory economics in their fall term. The course was offered by the English, History, and Government Department, and had the purpose of acquainting..."midshipmen with the fundamental concepts of economics and the nature of current politics-economics problems." The text was Whitaker's Elements of Economics. A year later the Department selected as a text the first edition of Paul Samuelson's Economics, a popular book destined to run through many editions. What seemed like a solid commitment to instruction in economics took a curious turn over the next few years as the three-hour semester course had training in speech added to it; the instructors then began to allot one hour per week to teaching "speaking". At that time the texts became Morgan's Introduction to Economics, and Monroe's Principles and Types of Speech.

Throughout the 1950's speech continued to be part of the economics course which was required for one semester of the midshipmen's second class year. Few of the instructors in the course considered themselves economists, and perhaps felt more at ease teaching speech than economics. Most also taught courses in English, history, or government. While the rigorous Samuelson text was used from time to time, many other introductory texts by well known economists like Spiegel, Burns, Bach, and Peach were also tried. By the late 50's the purpose of the economics course was described as..."to teach the midshipman the laws of economic behavior, to give him a comprehension of American economic institutions, to familiarize him with the role of government in the economy in peace and war, and to develop his understanding of the elements of personal finance." By this time also, two additional texts were added to the required reading in the course: The Federal Reserve System, Its Purpose and Function, and Outside Readings in Economics, edited by Hess,

Serious debate about changing the lock-step curriculum at the Academy came to the fore in 1958, and advanced placement exams were given to entering midshipmen for the first time in academic year 1959-60. Those midshipmen who "tested-out" of certain required courses were then allowed to substitute "electives." No longer were all midshipmen of the same class taking the same courses. Gradually, the number of midshipmen validating required courses in math, languages, chemistry, and physics grew, and the number of elective courses available for them also grew. The English, History, and Government Department added such courses as economic geography, public finance, economic history, history of economic thought, comparative economic systems, defense economics, money and banking, and international trade. The mid-1960's saw the Academy adopt a curriculum that required each midshipman to declare a minor and complete about 15% of his course work in a selected discipline. Only a step away from a majors program, many departments began adding enough courses to permit a midshipman who had validated several courses, and/or was willing to take a heavy course load, to achieve a major by taking around 30 hours of course work in a discipline.

The Economics Major (1970-Present)

The majors program became a reality in 1970 when Adm. James Calvert initiated a re-organization and re-structuring of academic departments along discipline lines. Departments were given substantial autonomy over majors within their discipline. The Economics Department was formed and placed in the Division of U.S. and International Studies. At this time the modern structure of the economics program at the Academy was virtually in place. To the courses mentioned above had been added others like intermediate micro and macroeconomics, labor economics, government-business relations, economic development, econometrics, transportation economics, urban economics, and the economics of technology. Commensurate with the adding of economics courses, a number of young economists had been recruited to join the faculty directly out of graduate school. Now economics was being taught by people trained as economists to students who had voluntarily chosen it as a major. The excitement and enthusiasm for the subject grew.

Economics instruction remained vibrant throughout the 70's as almost all midshipmen enrolled in the basic course and many non-majors chose economics electives. The number of midshipmen majoring in economics remained modest, however, with most classes having 25 or fewer. In 1984 the Academy dropped its management major, and moved several courses including accounting and financial analysis to the Economics Department. At about the same time, the policy of requiring that around seventy percent of a class must major in engineering, math, or science was relaxed. Thereafter the number of midshipmen majoring in economics began to increase until there were 75 or more in each class. In the mid-80's an honors program was added to the major which allowed talented students to enhance their education by taking advanced microeconomics, advanced macroeconomics, econometrics, and an expanded senior seminar. Two to five midshipmen per year took advantage of this program, and this trend has continued to the present day. In the late 1990s, the number of economics majors grew further.  In May 2000, 134 midshipmen graduated with a major in economics -- some 14 percent of the graduating class.

In 1997, an interdisciplinary major, Quantitative Economics (SQE), was approved by the Superintendent.  This major was developed jointly by the Economics Department and the Mathematics Department. It consists of six courses in Economics, six in Mathematics, a jointly taught senior seminar, and one course from either discipline. The first Quantitative Economics Majors (ten in number) graduated in May 2000. The Quantitative Economics Major has since attracted, on average, 20 and 30 majors per year.

In recent years, the department has modified the economics major to adopt a stronger quantitative emphasis, both in terms of the set of required courses students must take, and within many of the existing courses. The modified major is now named "Quantitative Economics (FQE)", while the SQE major has been renamed to "Mathematics with Economics (SME)," which more accurately reflects the strong interdisciplinary nature of its curriculum, as it requires substantial coursework in both mathematics and economics. The Class of 2018 was the first to be offered the revamped FQE major (rather than the previously offered "Economics (FEC)" major).

The Economics Faculty at USNA

Most emphatically, the founding father of economics at the Naval Academy was Prof. J. Roger Fredland. Born in Maine and educated at Bates, Professor Fredland did his graduate work in English at Princeton University before coming to the Academy in 1941 and joining the English, History, and Government Department. Over the years he taught many different courses in the Department, and even co-authored several naval history texts. When economics came back into the curriculum in the late 1940's, he began to shepherd its instruction, and developed an interest that led him into graduate work at American University where he completed the Ph.D. in economics in 1956. It was he who took the initiative, planned, and developed most of the economics courses that were put in the curriculum in the 1960's. He was also the one who recruited the first professional economists to teach at the Academy, and by the mid-60's he took over as the first Head of the Economics Committee within the EH&G Department. Henceforth, he spent all of his time in economics. When academic re-organization occurred in 1970, he became the first Chairman of the Economics Department, a position he held until his retirement. In addition to being a trusted and respected administrator, he enjoyed the classroom experience, particularly the teaching of history of economic thought, economic geography, and transportation economics. Upon his retirement in 1974, Prof. Fredland became the first emeritus professor of economics at the Naval Academy.

Besides Prof. Fredland, those economists who were on the staff at the founding of the Department were: Professors A. Royall Whitaker, Harley H. Hinrichs, Luis R. Luis, Kenneth Kerin, James J. McCusker, and Clair E. Morris. Prof. Morris became Chair of the Department when Prof. Fredland retired, and served until 1980. He was followed by Prof. Roger D. Little, 1980-84. The next Chair was Prof. J. Eric Fredland, son of Prof. J. Roger Fredland, who had joined the faculty from a professorship at George Washington University when his father retired. He served until 1990, and was succeeded by the first civilian woman faculty member hired at the Academy, Prof. Rae Jean B. Goodman. Prof. Fredland again assumed the chairmanship, 1995-1999, Prof. William R. Bowman served as chairman from 1999-2003, only to be replaced in 2003 by Professor Fredland, who served his third stint as chairman until 2004. Prof. Karen Thierfelder served as department chair from 2005 through 2011, followed by Prof. Brendan Cunningham from 2012 through 2015. The current chair is Prof. Kurtis Swope, who began in this role in academic year 2016. The Department has been fortunate to have had sound and judicious leadership that has kept its programs current and relevant, and its instruction to midshipmen first rate.

Over the years a number of distinguished visiting professors taught and researched in the Economics Department as they held especially created and funded chairs. Among them were:

Mr. Martin Binkin
Dr. Kenneth J. Coffey
Dr. Rozlyn Engel
Dr. Daphne T. Greenwood
Dr. Estelle James
Dr. Steven Landefeld
Dr. Robert F. Lockman
Dr. Robert Marsh
Dr. Jeffrey B. Miller
Dr. Mansur Olson
Dr. Michael B. Tannen
Dr. John T. Warner

The Admiral William Crowe Chair in the Economics of the Defense Industrial Base was established in 1994 with a $1.5 million grant from General Dynamics. The first holder became Dr. Oliver Grawe, a noted economist from the Federal Trade Commission. Subsequent holders were Dr. Gregory Hildebrandt of the Naval Post Graduate School, and Mr. Adrian Kendry, from the University of the West of England, Dr. Victoria Greenfield of the Rand Corporation, Dr. Francis McDonald of the Department of Defense, and Hon. David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States.

A number of prominent and notable naval and Marine Corps officers have also served on the staff of the Department since its founding. Among those have been: Col. David Vetter and CDR. Charles Perkins, both of whom won the Clements Award for Best Military Instructor at the Academy, Maj. Gen. Jefferson D. Howell, Brig. Gen. Carl Fulford, Brig. Gen. Richard Kramlich, Col. Scott E. Leitch, Capt. Harry Benter, USN, Capt. Terry Ippel, USN, Capt. Jimmy Emerson, USN., and Maj. Robert Dyer, USMC, founder of RuckPack, which was featured in a 2012 episode of Shark Tank on ABC.

Enhancements and Enrichments to the Economics Program

There have been many developments since the Department's founding that have enriched the quality of the midshipmen's education in economics. In 1971, Prof. Roger D. Little took the initiative in establishing at the Naval Academy a chapter of Omicron Delta Epsilon, the international honor society for students in economics.

Midshipmen majors of the first and second classes with CQPR's of 3.0 or above have been invited to join this society in recognition of their accomplishments. ODE has met regularly and has sponsored many lectures, luncheons, and social events that have contributed to a greater camaraderie among majors and more interaction between students and faculty.

In the late 1970's the Department began a summer intern program for midshipmen majors which allowed them to work during their leave time for three weeks or so in one of the Pentagon offices concerned with budgetary affairs or military manpower matters. On occasion the duties have involved working on Capitol Hill.

In 1983, the Department, under the guidance of Prof. Roger Little, sponsored a national conference on the economics of the all volunteer military force after a decade of moving to that policy. This was a hotly debated topic at the time, and midshipmen and faculty alike were treated to outstanding speakers from both sides of the issue. Among the prominent participants were Sec. of Defense Casper Weinberger, Lawrence J. Korb, Martin Anderson, and Martin Binkin. Prof. Little and Prof. William Bowman edited the papers presented at the conference and published them in The All Volunteer Force After A Decade: Retrospect and Prospect, (Washington, D.C.: Pergamon-Brassey's, 1986). Again, in 1993 the Department sponsored a national conference to assess the all voluntary force two decades from its beginning. Dr. Kenneth J. Coffey, Prof. Little, and Prof. J. Eric Fredland were leaders of this conference and once again obtained outstanding participation from distinguished military figures as well as civilian experts. The papers were published in Professionals on the Front Lines: Two Decades of the All-Volunteer Force (Washington DC: Brassey's, 1996).

Under the auspices of ODE, Col. Scott Leitch, USMC, while serving on the faculty in the mid 80's, began what has turned into an annual trip to New York City for economics majors of the first class. The group visits the New York Stock Exchange, an investment bank, and a bond trading room. This has become one of the most popular events of the year.

A major advance in economics education occurred in 1987 when Prof. Rae Jean Goodman and Prof. Tom Zak successfully undertook to establish an electronic classroom with 20 linked PC computers for the instruction of economics. This classroom, continuously updated, has served as a lab for the Department's classes in economic statistics, intermediate macroeconomics, and advanced macroeconomics. Midshipmen have been able to get hands-on experience in predicting what would happen to the level of economic activity if a whole host of variables were to change. A second laboratory was added in 2000.

The Economics Department has expanded the educational opportunities available to economics majors. Honors students have attended professional conferences and presented the results of their research. The economics department has offered substantial opportunities for graduate education in business and economics to qualified mids through VGEP and IGEP programs. Beginning in 2001, due to the efforts of Professor Pamela Schmitt, several midshipmen each year have been able to participate in the summer program at the London School of Economics. The Honors program graduated its first class in 1988 under the direction of Associate Professor Tom Zak, and continues to offer advanced midshipmen opportunities for additional study of economics and research.

The Economics Department has always availed itself of the opportunity to get outstanding speakers in the area of policy-making from Washington, D.C. Over the years there have been many lectures to combined sections of midshipmen from Assistant Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries, and Assistant Deputy Secretaries of such departments as Labor, Commerce, Treasury, and Defense. Some of the more prominent speakers have been economists like George Tolley, Christopher Jehn, Emil Sunley, Richard Elster, and Roger Shields. Others have come from the Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Budget and Management, the Federal Reserve Board (e.g., Andrew Brimmer and Donald Kohn), and from Washington think tanks (e.g., Brookings' Barry Bosworth). On three occasions Nobel Prize winning economists, James M. Buchanan, James Heckman, and Peter Diamond, have provided an evening lecture to midshipmen. Being able to draw on such a talented resource base has been a significant advantage for the Naval Academy. It has allowed the Department to keep its instruction lively, relevant, and very stimulating to the midshipmen.

Locations/Homes of the Economics Department at USNA

When economics was being offered by the Department of English, History, and Government during the 1940's, 50's, and 60's, the Economics Committee (predecessor to the Department) was located on the first deck of Maury Hall. After the construction of Michelson and Chauvenet Halls and the movement of chemistry and physics labs into those quarters in 1968, the basement of Maury Hall became the home of the Economics Committee. Prof. J. Roger Fredland's office was under the stairwell at the creek end. In 1970, after academic re-organization and the coming of departmental status, the newly formed Economics Department moved into recently renovated offices on the second deck of Sampson Hall. The stay in Sampson, however, was quite short, for when Nimitz Library was completed in 1972, Economics moved into quarters on the bottom deck of Nimitz overlooking Dorsey Creek. In 1990, the Division of U.S. and International Studies was disbanded, and for administrative purposes the Economics Department was merged, along with the Departments of Political Science, Area Languages Studies, History, and English, into a new division called the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences.

In 2020, the division was redesignated as the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Economics Department currently resides on the third deck of Michelson Hall.

go to Top