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Melville, former professor and Harpur dean, dies

Robert Melville, 83, died Wednesday, Aug. 27, after an illness. A graduate of Ohio Wesleyan, he earned master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from Harvard University before beginning his teaching career.

Melville joined the Binghamton University Department of Economics in 1963, and wore many hats prior to his 1990 retirement: 18 years as associate dean for administration for Harpur College, three times interim dean of Harpur College and nearly four years as managing director of the Anderson Center.

His wife, Roberta Scheer Melville, recalls that his interim service always seemed to be during times of retrenchment, yet “he was able to maintain a sense of respect and good feelings from everyone.”

David Gitliz, now at the University of Rhode Island, was dean of Harpur College for five years when Melville was associate dean.

“Bob was one enormously curious guy,” he said. “He read widely, had tremendous retention for data and knew the answer or how to get it.

“As associate dean he was the best in the business. He was tough and fair and always had a sparkle in his eye,” he added. “He was my associate dean, but also my mentor who taught me ‘management by walking about.’”

Noted author and economist Ronald Ehrenberg ’66, Cornell University’s Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics, was a second-semester sophomore when he first took a class taught by Melville.

“He made economics sound so logical, so exciting and so useful for public policy that I was hooked,” Ehrenberg said. “So, in a very real respect, he was responsible for setting me on the path that led to my career ... the man who made me an economist.”

Sol Polachek, distinguished professor of economics, was interviewed by Melville for a faculty position at Binghamton. Melville “was the only dean who had my paper on his desk before I got there,” Polachek said.

Cliff Kern, professor of economics, also recalled his interview with Melville in 1971.

“Bob’s real passion was students and the quality of instruction. What our conversation was mostly about was that I had an experience teaching a discussion section in a very large room. I insisted everyone sit in the front half of the room and communication became much easier. Bob was very interested in the techniques of teaching.”

“He was a great leader and champion of Harpur College — of both faculty and students,” said Rosmarie Morewedge, associate professor of German. “It was his belief that this University had a special character in being able to respond to issues with mind and heart.”

Melville is survived by his wife, several children and grandchildren and his first wife.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the Binghamton University Foundation, Account #10302, Binghamton Fund for Harpur College of Arts and Sciences.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08