University of Zurich: Forced retirement for Bruno Frey

Economist Bruno Frey (cropped image)

After all, the University of Zurich gets tough against Bruno Frey.

The faculty has decided to force him into retirement. The current contract with Bruno Frey, which is going to run out at the end of July 2012, will not be renewed.

Probably as a matter of retaliation, Bruno Frey has severely criticised his faculty in an op-ed he published in a major Swiss daily. Between the lines, he urged the Swiss government to cut the funding for the economics department of the University of Zurich.

After weeks of unconfirmed rumours about the decision, the University of Zurich on Sunday officially announced that they won’t prolong Frey’s contract.

The press office declined to explain the reasons for this decisions pointing to the fact that HR affairs are confidential.

However, as sources at the university explained to me, Frey’s dodgy academic conduct is at the core of the ruling.

“The discussions about Bruno Frey’s self-plagiats have severely harmed the international reputation of the faculty”, an insider told me.

Last summer, the blogger Economic Logician and others discovered that Bruno Frey published an article about the sinking of the Titanic in four different academic journals without cross-referencing to the other papers.

The “Journal of Economic Perspectives” and other effected journals publicly rebuked Frey. He sincerely apologised and tried to frame the missing citations as a one-off thing.

However, numerous similar cases were revealed by the FreyPlagWiki and by this blog: Bruno Frey systematically published similar papers in a number of journals without citing the related work.

This is a clear violation of the submission guidelines of most affected journals and at odds with commonly agreed ethical standards of the academic profession.

However, last month it looked like Bruno Frey was getting away with a slap on his wrist by the University of Zurich. An external commission that examined the Titanic papers came to the conclusion that the missing cross-references were “improper” and violated the integrity of the academic research.

They recommended that Frey should be reprimanded but also came to the conclusion that no further action was necessary. The University of Zurich followed this advise. Frey was rebuked and the procedure closed.

But that is only half of the story – as it has become clear recently.

Formally, the decision not to renew his employment contract is not related to the investigation. Frey, who is 70 years old, was officially retired in 2006 when he celebrated his 65 birthday. However, based on a special arrangement applicable for outstanding researchers, the university extended his employment with temporary contracts that had a duration of two years. The current one runs out at the end of July 2012.

In a very unusual step, Bruno Frey, who is also a Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School, lambasted the economic department at the University of Zurich. In an op-ed for the Swiss daily “Tages-Anzeiger”, he claimed that most economists of the University of Zurich were only focussing on producing scientific publications and were not interested in influencing economic policy anymore. He wrote:

“A lot of economists at universities are only aiming at publishing as much as possible in academic journals. They are only marginally or not at all interested in what’s going on in the real world.

Hence, there are only a few economists left who take a stand on the economic problems of this country. Positive examples are Monika Bütler (University of St. Gallen) and Christoph Schaltegger (University of Luzern).

Almost without any exception, however, the economists of the University of Zurich, are not visible at all in the economic and financial discussions.

They are only interested in publishing in academic journals. If at all, those publication are only acknowledged by a few number of other academics. Quite often, nobody at all takes note of them. The economic and socio-political debate surely is not influenced by this. Sooner or later, this should be realised by the tax payers who are funding the university.”

Such a rant against a faculty where Frey has been working since 1977 is quite a unique thing. I don’t think it is either fair or justified.

This rampage hurts Frey much more than his old colleagues (who, ironically, announced that they will receive a donation of 100 million Swiss Francs from UBS a few days after Frey published his piece.)

5 Comments

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5 Responses to University of Zurich: Forced retirement for Bruno Frey

  1. I am not an insider in this academic loop but have read quite a few people saying similar things about theorists who contemplate equilibrium in an idealized economy that grows faster and faster to infinity on a finite planet with a measurable solar power budget.

    • jj

      Economic growth incorporates quality adjustments. While there is certainly a limit on the physical amount of goods that you can produce and consume, there is no such (known) limit on the quality of these goods. Economic growth can easily continue virtually forever (meaning relative to a meaningful lifespan of humans) along this intensive margin. Moving from large stereos to iPods is a great example of economic growth that involves consuming less resources and less energy in the production of these goods.

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  4. JH

    Update – you write: “This rampage hurts Frey much more than his old colleagues (who, ironically, announced that they will receive a donation of 100 million Swiss Francs from UBS a few days after Frey published his piece.)”

    Bruno Frey has not given up and has now (jointly with his wife Margit Osterloh, who recently initiated a boycott of the Handelsblatt rankings) been among the first to sign a public appeal against the UBS donation): http://www.zuercher-appell.ch/index_en.php