Economics professor celebrates 50 years at Lehigh


Professor Richard Aronson’s sits leisurely at a table toward the back end of his office. He is facing a student who is writing on a chalkboard, his hands casually resting on the armrests of his small, blue chair.

In the Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise — a quiet and professional section hidden within the third floor of Rauch Business Center — information about Aronson’s 50th anniversary at Lehigh is neatly presented across a glass top near the front desk, showcasing items that reflect the appreciation and admiration the university has for him.

After all, Aronson’s line of work that has led up to his retirement at the end of this year consists of various honors and positions. He is the holder of the William L. Clayton Professorship; an honorary professor of economics at University of York, Heslington, England; a Fulbright Scholar; the director of The Martindale Center; and a professor for the economics department at Lehigh, just to name a few.

But nonetheless, Aronson seems to remain more than humble.

“I started as a chemistry major and I blew up the lab,” Aronson said. “So my professor was not upset when I said I would be a math major. When I picked up economics, the math began to make sense.”

After receiving his undergraduate degree at Clark University, Aronson pursued his master’s degree at Stanford University, where he won the fellowship at the food research institution of the university. He then returned to Clark to receive his doctorate, where he found a mentor in James A. Maxwell. Aronson keeps a framed photo of Jonas Clark, the founder of Clark University, which was passed down to him after Maxwell’s death. Aronson said he had both a friendship and professional relationship with his mentor.

“My relationship with Maxwell was special,” Aronson said. “We did a lot of work together and wrote articles.”

Aronson said one of their collaborative works that was published was a book called “Financing State and Local Governments.”

When Aronson first started his career at Lehigh, he found a home in the faculty and students at the university. Aronson explained that it was a different time back then because the campus was affected by the all-male dynamic, but it soon underwent changes with the acceptance of female students and the arts to Lehigh.

“We were treated so well, we being my wife and myself,” Aronson said. “The senior faculties were very helpful in getting you started. The co-ed business, it was obvious something we had to do – the flavor of the campus changed. The next important thing was Zoellner, which brought us a range of interests that were not existent in the male or female school.”

During his time at Lehigh, Aronson also served as the master of Taylor House, where he and his wife lived, aiming to organize faculty and student activities outside the classroom.

“We did tons of stuff,” Aronson said of the Taylor House program. “There was a Taylor crier. I made it a position. He would scream messages slipped under his door. At 10 o’clock everyday, all the windows in the courtyard would open for the crier.”

Aronson is also known by economics department for his ability to teach economics courses with 500 students.

“Keeping the interest and attention of 500 students during a lecture is a skill that very few faculty members have, and he has been a master,” Robert Thornton, an economics professor, said.

Additionally, Aronson is also involved in the Martindale Student Associates Program. Every year, the program allows select sophomores and juniors to research a global economics topic through an international trip to explore real world applications.

Roger Simon, a professor in the department of history, who knows Aronson through the program, said that Aronson is fun to be around and uses humor to put people “at ease.”

Judith McDonald, a professor in the economics department, shared similar sentiments, reflecting on her time spent with Aronson on the Martindale trips.

“Over these many years, Rich has been an excellent colleague and mentor to me,” McDonald said. “I have also enjoyed Rich’s great sense of humor. He is also charming, kindhearted and caring. As Professor Aronson would say, we have had many marvelous adventures on these trips to places like Colombia, Hong Kong, Argentina and New Zealand.”

Janice Johnston Howie, the program director for The Martindale Center, organized the 50th anniversary celebration of Aronson’s career on behalf of The Martindale Center.

“It’s been a wonderful 50 years,” Aronson said. “I couldn’t have picked a better place.

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