Research lab closes, leaves question marks

The Center for Behavioral and Experimental Economic Science, or CBEES, was abruptly closed last month, leaving at least one faculty member without a job and displacing student research.

Former director of CBEES, Catherine Eckel, moved to teach at Texas A&M University in May and had been assured that the lab would continue to operate for at least one more year. After Eckel’s departure, Wendy Lee, the CBEES computer programmer, said she was abruptly terminated on Aug. 15 and informed that the lab must vacate its space in Green Hall by Aug. 31.

Former CBEES researcher and graduate student, Haley Harwell, along with three other students, ultimately decided to transfer to Texas A&M to continue studying with Eckel after hearing about the decision.

“In my opinion, the (UTD economics) department is considerably weaker without the CBEES lab,” Harwell said.

The sudden decision to move CBEES out of its lab left many of the center’s staff scrambling to figure out their next move.

“Honestly the worst part about this whole thing was the short notice,” said a CBEES researcher and graduate student who requested to remain anonymous. “I remember getting the email from Dr. Eckel, and then an email the same day from UTD saying that tuition was due. That’s a situation no one should have to go through.”

Ultimately, some of the CBEES staff said they believe the decision will hamper research and negatively impact students in the economics department.

“Overall I’m just disappointed that CBEES closed down; the lab helped me grow both professionally and academically,” the graduate student said. “Because of my experience at CBEES, I will be able to successfully join the workforce upon graduation and find a job in my field. It’s a shame that opportunity will not be available to other UTD students because of … the decision.”

James Marquart, dean of the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, or EPPS, said the decision was made because of the demand for space on campus.

“Space is premium and it’s valuable,” Marquart said. “So some portion of (CBEES) went with (Eckel) and then other arrangements are made here internally on campus. So when somebody goes, basically that operation is relocated.”

The IUPR, which was formerly located at the Waterview Science and Technology Center, was the first choice to move in the newly vacated space.

“They do a lot of things internally in the school, they have students that are employed with them; there’s research projects involving faculty members,” Marquart said. “So there was an opportunity for (IUPR) to come back and take over that space in the building.”

Marquart said that arrangements had been made for CBEES researchers so that the research could continue at other sites on campus.

James Murdoch, professor and director in the School of EPPS, said that research from CBEES would continue to operate in a similar lab in the Naveen Jindal School of Management, or JSOM.

“I think long-term, (CBEES) is going to merge with an experimental lab over in management,” he said. “All the research is going to continue … we also have a system for a portable lab in Green Hall, where we use laptops, so we can use any space where we have tables and there’s network access.”

Despite Marquart and Murdoch’s statements that research from CBEES could continue, Lee, Harwell and other former CBEES researchers said they had concerns about the new lab. One of the concerns centered on grant funding.

“We were getting grants for (research), and there were people pulling money out of the grants,” Harwell said. “When you don’t have a structure set up like a foundationally solid lab, it’s hard to figure out the other avenues like how you’re going to get money and run the (experiments).”

The lab housed in the JSOM, called the Center and Laboratory for Behavioral Operations and Economics, has a similar purpose as the CBEES to support the testing of economic and business models using human test subjects.

Still, the closing of the CBEES lab is disappointing for some of the staff.

“A lot of people worked at the lab and were published out of it … and it was like a family,” Harwell said. “There’s really not another place that I’m aware of in the economics department that’s like that.”

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