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Professor Coiner and his enigmatic economics

By Sabrina Chow, Polina Potochevska and Sara McCrea

Section: Features

March 9, 2018

Economics professor Michael Coiner is not a monotone lecturer. While explaining supply and demand graphs or discussing President Trump’s trade policy, students recall Coiner’s excitement building to a peak. With chalk flying across the board, his voice rises, his arms wave, his face reddens and he eventually begins to pace up and down the aisles of the lecture hall, occasionally dropping a word of profanity into his impassioned speech. “You can really tell he loves economics,” Mia Dorris ’20 said.

Teaching economics was not always a part of Coiner’s plan. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Coiner said. “I thought in high school that I was going to be a math teacher. I started out college as a math major, but I found math to be really hard. When I saw I was doing better in my economics classes, I decided to become an economics teacher.”

Students often approach Coiner after a course and tell him how much they enjoyed it. “I look at the course evaluations and I see that they are mostly positive. I’m a little uncomfortable with the attention,” Coiner said. “I am basically a shy person. You wouldn’t know that from coming to a class.”

Dorris described Coiner’s class as always engaging, noting his outbursts as indicative of his passion for the subject. “A big reason I might be majoring in economics is because I would get so excited about economics in his class,” Dorris said.

Coiner hopes students can translate knowledge from his class when approaching economic policy issues in the real world.

“Various groups have a vested interest in misinforming the public. I believe the American public in general is not well informed about economics. It makes me mad when, in many cases, false ideas are espoused in the popular press or in politics,” Coiner said.

In addition to his love for the the subject of economics, Coiner’s love for teaching is due to the enthusiasm from his students. “The vast majority of them are trying to learn. They want to put in the effort they need in order to learn as much as they can and that’s very satisfying,” said Coiner. “Of all the places I’ve taught, Brandeis seems to have the greatest percent of students that want to learn. And I think that it is in part that many students are concerned about social justice and public policy, which makes it much easier to teach,” said Coiner.

This semester, Coiner teaches ECON 2a “Survey of Economics,” ECON 10a “Introduction to Microeconomics” and ECON 134b “Public Sector Economics,” all lecture courses with over 100 students. Coiner explained that teaching large introductory courses is “vastly different than the classes with 35-40 students in them.”

“Most of the professors that teach, not just at Brandeis, have not had much experience teaching really large classes. Luckily, I happen to have that experience,” he said.

Joel Hemsi ’19 took Coiner’s ECON 10a class in her first year at Brandeis after hearing upperclassmen speak about Coiner’s impressive teaching style. “I have so much respect for him because his passion would shine through every lecture,” Hemsi said. “He would teach three lectures back to back, and mine was the last one, but he was at his peak at all times for every class. He makes people listen.”

For Coiner, the best thing about teaching the introductory economics courses is that he can start from scratch with students. “I think I’m pretty good at figuring out where my audience is coming from. I can generally sense what they know and what they don’t. I don’t jump to something that they cannot understand without first getting the groundwork down. I’m really good at the groundwork.” Coiner said.

When asked about how he keeps the information fresh and engaging to students, Coiner explained the importance of being open to adjustments in his teaching style from year to year. “Having some humor in class definitely helps,” Coiner said. “[Something] I’ve learned from teaching over the years is to change things that don’t work. Some of the quotes that I say, I’ve said for a long time. And each year a new group of students gets to experience it.”

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