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Professor Of Economics Retires After 52 Years At BC

Asst. News Editor

Published: Monday, December 9, 2013

Updated: Monday, December 9, 2013 05:12

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Andrew Skaras / Heights Editor

The way he describes it, Francis M. McLaughlin ended up at Boston College by accident. Recently out of high school, one of his friends suggested that he sit for the entrance exam taking place the next day for the Intown College (the precursor of Woods College of Advancing Studies). On a whim, he sat for the exam, was accepted, and began in September of 1947. After graduating in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree and again in 1957 with a master’s degree, he eventually made his way back as an instructor in economics in 1961. At the end of this semester, after 52 years of teaching at BC, McLaughlin is retiring from his position as associate professor of economics.

According to McLaughlin, when he began attending the Intown College, it was a six-year, four-night per week program. He worked during the day and attended classes at night. McLaughlin was unable to complete the program on time, however, because of active duty service in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Afterward, he continued working for an engineering firm in Boston and decided to enter into one of BC’s master’s programs.

“I got recommended by one of my professors here for the part-time MA program,” McLaughlin said. “I finished that and then I was taking more courses and considering a Ph.D., but I wasn’t sure that a BC Ph.D. was really marketable in those days. Then came this Jesuit—McEwan. He was talking to Doug Brown about MIT and he said I should apply, otherwise I wouldn’t have thought to apply. I was accepted and won a fellowship—the Hicks fellowship.”

Studying at MIT marked the first time that McLaughlin was a full-time student. He described his college experience as very different from the kind that people have today because of the different background that he had growing up.

“My grandparents didn’t read and write,” McLaughlin said. “They were immigrants from Ireland. I was one of eight during the Depression years—my parents left school after the eighth grade.”

In 1961, he joined the faculty of the BC Economics department as an instructor before he even finished his Ph.D. at MIT.

“The standard in those days was they would hire you as an instructor without your thesis finished and you could have a maximum of four one-year contracts,” McLaughlin said. “The first hurdle for me was to get a doctorate. I got it all accepted in the first semester of my third year. They hired me as an assistant professor on the basis of that. The next hurdle was for me to get tenure and I got that in ’67.”

Since then, McLaughlin emphasized that it has become much more difficult to get employed and then get tenure because of the international reputation that BC has generated for itself.

In his first years of teaching, he taught principles of economics and two sections of labor economics, the latter being the focus of his dissertation and a class that he has offered almost continuously since then. Since those days, McLaughlin said that little has changed in terms of the requirements to major in economics.

“When I came, it was 10 courses—principles [of macroeconomics and of microeconomics], theory [of macroeconomics and of microeconomics], statistics, and five electives,” McLaughlin said. “Now, it is required that students have a certain level of math—this used to be required just for honors. Now, it also requires econometrics. The program is more quantitative now.”

Over the decades of his service, McLaughlin saw a lot more than just the structure of the major change—he has seen the location change, the number of undergraduates change, and the University as a whole change through his service both in departmental and University-level capacities.

“When I started, two or three faculty members would share an office,” McLaughlin said. “I had my own office. The Economics department was in Fulton, but I had an office in Gasson where the stairwell is now. It was a deserted building after classes and the place would go into darkness at 10 [p.m.]. The building used to have a wooden frame and it would creak. It was a spooky place—it sounded like someone was coming down the corridor.”

The technology was different then, as well. McLaughlin recounted the telephone situation in the ’60s when he began.

“There was one telephone for the entire Business and Economics departments in a closet in Fulton,” he said.

While it is impossible to form an exact count, over his 52 years of teaching, McLaughlin taught thousands of students. In addition, nine of his 11 children graduated from BC and five of numerous grandchildren currently attend BC. All of his children, most of his grandchildren, and many students that he taught over the years gathered together on Dec. 2 in the Heights Room to celebrate his tenure. There, many spoke about how he had touched their lives.

Donald Cox, chairman of the Economics department and BC ’75, recounted a class that he had with McLaughlin when he was an undergraduate. He pulled out a blue book from an exam in a class he had with McLaughlin and joked about receiving a B+ on the exam.

His children spoke about how, with their father teaching at BC, they grew up on BC’s campus. Francis X. McLaughlin recounted how he remembers the Flynn Recreational Complex when it was first built.

“We would spend all day in the Plex when it first opened,” he said. “We’d come down here and run around and swim until it closed at night. Whoever was defined as one of the ‘little kids’ at the time would even have to put on their pajamas before we left to go home.”

Another member of the Economics department, Paul Cichello, BC ’92, remembered McLaughlin as well from his time as an undergraduate.

“The one thing I remember from him is his love of learning,” Cichello said. “He was teaching that course and was still taking courses. He was still learning.”

While University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. was not present for the celebration, Joseph Quinn, interim provost and dean of faculties, read a letter written by Leahy that awarded McLaughlin with the rank of associate professor emeritus. 

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