The various micro professors I had, all stressed that we learn to reason as an economist, not just learn the formal language of economists. And to acquire that ability, they all pointed us to Armen Alchian. We studied his textbook, we read his articles, we listened to his former students relay stories about how he taught and what he taught. When we were studying for our microeconomics qualifying exam, my study partners often joked that we needed to do our best to become Alchian to succeed on the exam. And, the exam format did in large part take the form of the True, False, Uncertain questions which are in University Economics and the pass rate in those early years of GMU's PhD program did not get above 50% by design. If we could learn to reason like Alchian in tackling questions, then we could pass the exam. If we couldn't think like Alchian, then we would need to take the exam again. Many of my classmates needed a second or even third try.The George Mason Way, thus, involves competing for good professors. In the early days of Cold Spring Shops, we noted the revealed preferences of administrators at the University of Arizona when Vernon Smith left for George Mason. Subsequent developments at Arizona were not then, and are not now, encouraging. The George Mason Way also requires graduate students to think like economists. Stringing together a few symbols allegedly connected by FOC => is not enough. And, occasionally, the candidacy examination committee, dispassionately, has to weed.
The reader is invited to contrast the George Mason approach with a graduate education model based on making noncompetitive salary offers and worrying more about retention than about the quality of the students retained.