Discussing Economic Inequality

When Michael Vaughan started teaching economics 40 years ago — “back when it was called Economics 101,” he said, smiling — he asked students these questions:

1. How much do you think a middle-income person makes?
2. How much does someone need to earn to be rich?

“The answers were always way off,” Vaughan said. “And the students were shocked to hear the right answers. The same holds true today. In many instances, there is a chasm between people’s knowledge and perception of economic inequality and the reality of it.”
That is one of the reasons why the American Democracy Project (ADP) selected economic inequality as its three-year national initiative,   explained Vaughan, who after stepping down as Weber State’s longtime provost, now directs WSU’s new Center for the Study of Poverty and Economic Inequality.

Weber State, an ADP- participating campus, was one of 30+ colleges from across the country chosen to take part in the initiative, which ties in nicely with the university’s new center, Vaughan said.

The center will focus on three areas: curriculum, research and services. Vaughan is already collaborating with faculty in WSU’s Department of Teacher Education to design a program that could help local residents break the cycle of poverty. “It will be a program that currently isn’t being offered in the community,” he explained.

Vaughan is also working with ADP to help other universities increase participation efforts on their campuses.

“The key word here is democracy. We want to help students think about economic inequality and poverty, to become better informed,” Vaughan said. “At the end of this initiative, I want people to be able to say Weber State took a lead and was a model for other institutions.” 

In June 2015, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities honored Michael Vaughan (left) with the William M. Plater Award for Leadership in Civic Engagement. The award recognizes “exemplary leadership in advancing the civic learning of undergraduates through programs and activities that encourage greater knowledge, skills, experiences and reflection about the roles of citizens in a democracy.”