Professor Tresch at the celebratory event honoring his career. (Photos by Lee Pellegrini)

More than 125 colleagues, former students, and family members recently gathered to honor Richard W. Tresch, a beloved economics professor at Boston College and a former state collegiate Professor of the Year, upon his retirement from the University.

“Dick is a great teacher; Dick inspires,” declared former student and retired Ropes & Gray partner John Kenneth Felter ’72, M.A.’72 at Tresch’s retirement party on October 22 in Gasson 100. “He inspired me and thousands of other BC students to learn. To me, that is the essence of a great teacher, and Dick’s teaching is what inspired me to establish the Richard W. Tresch Fellowship in the Economics Department in his honor.”

Richard Tresch holding his citation

John Kenneth Felter ’72, M.A.’72 presents Tresch with a citation honoring his near half century of service.

Felter then presented Tresch with a citation from Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, which acknowledged the professor’s “49 years of dedicated service to Boston College as a preeminent teacher, stalwart administrator, contributor to the social science of economics, an esteemed author and public-sector theorist.”  

The East Cleveland, Ohio, native began his BC Economics Department career as an instructor in 1969. He became a full professor in 2002 and served as department chair in three stints totaling more than 10 years, as well as director of graduate studies for eight years, and director of undergraduate studies for one year. It’s estimated that he taught more than 12,000 students during his time at BC.

A public-sector economy expert, Tresch has authored five textbooks focused on public finance and economics, the most recent in 2015; another textbook, Principles of Economics (published in 1994), is now in its 15th edition.

In 1996, Tresch was named Massachusetts Professor of the Year, an honor conferred by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, one of the most prestigious awards bestowed upon university professors. Nominated by BC, Tresch was one of 18 candidates representing 15 Massachusetts-based institutions of higher education to vie for the distinction, which is based on dedication to undergraduate teaching; impact on and involvement with students; scholarly approach; service to undergraduates, the institution, community and profession; and endorsement from colleagues and current and former students.

“I am quite humbled by the award, and extremely grateful to the Carnegie Foundation,” said Tresch, interviewed by Boston College Chronicle after being selected.  “The greatest honor, however, is to have been nominated by Boston College. There are so many good teachers here and to be chosen to represent them in the program is something I truly value.”  

Describing his teaching approach, Tresch added, “It really all comes back to content. We’re not entertaining the students, but they have to be convinced you care about what you’re presenting.  You want to give them analysis, show them how economists think and analyze problems.  That’s why it’s critical to spend time organizing the material into a framework that students can grasp.”

Tresch also served as president of BC’s chapter of the national honor society Phi Beta Kappa for 25 years, for which he was acknowledged at a 2002 ceremony.

Tresch in conversation at the celebratory event

It’s estimated that Tresch taught more than 12,000 students during his time at BC.

“Over the years, many of our best graduates have been those who took Dick Tresch’s Principles of Economics course,” said Professor Christopher Baum, current Economics Department chair.  “Beyond his consummate skill in a 300-seat classroom, we can all be thankful for the pressure he successfully exerted while in charge of our undergraduate program to expand the number of full-time faculty in our department.  His efforts helped us keep up with the unprecedented demand for our major, which continues to thrive today. “

“Professor Tresch is an incredible teacher,” said Christopher Dalla Riva ’16, an analyst at Boston-based global consulting firm Charles River Associates; Tresch served as his senior thesis advisor. “His lectures were peppered with anecdotes and humor as well as informed by political science, philosophy, and psychology. He inspired an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, requiring you to think about them outside of the realm in which they were first conceived.

“It should come without surprise that our thesis meetings usually went far beyond the scope of my research! It was truly a pleasure to get to know Professor Tresch during my time at Boston College.”

Tresch offered some reflections on his University career for the BC Chronicle:

Why did economics rise to become one of BC’s most popular undergraduate majors in recent years?

There were two “spikes” in Economics majors during my career; one occurred when the baby boomers got to college, and the corresponding competition for business school slots and jobs became much stiffer, so many turned to Economics as an alternative path.  The second uptick was tied to the Great Recession, as parents of college students saw economics and STEM majors as a direct step toward employment for their children.  Although it was anticipated that interest in an economics major would diminish with the recovery, it’s still rising.  Apparently, the job anxiety persists.  Given that I’m a fan of the liberal arts, I hope this anxiety will disappear, but I realize that’s very unlikely unless the economy remains strong for another five years or so.

How have BC students changed over your nearly 50 years of teaching?

BC was a commuter school when I arrived, and I found those students, many of whom were the first in their families to attend college, to be very dedicated and highly motivated—but because many of them were also working, they faced many more real-life challenges than today’s students. As BC evolved into a primarily residential college, the students appeared to be more homogeneous, at least in regard to family income. There are also a higher percentage of international students.  At least at the graduate level, the enhanced research reputation of the Economics faculty has attracted a much stronger group of students over time from all over the world.

Has the economics curriculum changed during the past 49 years?

Actually, not much, although a future, significant course modification will affect the Class of 2023, as BC will decrease Principles of Economics from two courses to one, and add another required upper-level elective to the major. Over the past five years, we have also added a number of electives that introduce students to the analysis of Big Data, which will be useful to them in a number of contexts after they graduate.  I’m very proud of the department and its consistent research leadership over time.

Phil Gloudemans | University Communications | November 2018