The Post: Richard Vedder finished his 50th year at Ohio University in December

Behind a door sprinkled with self-written articles, Richard Vedder surrounds himself with bookshelves of economic literaries.

Photographs with former presidents and international officials crowd the tiny corner-office walls in Bentley Annex, and the desk is littered with various notes and lists.

But Vedder remains calm and clear despite the clutter and his decades-long reign here in Athens.


His traveling schedule rivals any frequent flier, full of lectures and student group speeches, from California to Missouri, New York to Texas.

Ohio University just can’t get rid of Vedder.

Even after retiring from full-time work in 2001 and then officially retiring in 2011, the decorated OU professor emeritus of economics is teaching for his 50th year at OU.

“The most satisfying part of my career at OU has been working with students,” Vedder, 74, said.

Formerly a full-time teacher, Vedder now teaches one class per semester per year, which usually focuses on economic history of Europe or the United States.

Of the four classes he has taught since 2011, three of them have had more than the maximum number of students registered to take them, according to OU’s course offerings.

“Professor Vedder has been one of the most impactful professors I’ve had at Ohio University,” said Hayden Humphrey, a senior studying business administration. “His depth of knowledge and wealth of experience, along with his delightfully crude sense of humor, make his classes interesting and enjoyable.”

Vedder has authored eight books and articles for major news outlets such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Some of his books include: The Wal-Mart Revolution: How Big-Box Stores Benefit Consumers, Workers, and the Economy, Going Broke By Degree: Why College Costs Too Much and Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth Century America (Independent Studies in Political Economy.)

Growing up in the Champaign-Urbana area in Illinois, Vedder began studying economics at Northwestern University, going on to get his Ph.D. of economics at the University of Illinois. Vedder’s original speciality was in the history of economics, examining how economic changes affect a country’s citizens, he said.

More recently, Vedder has turned his focus to a more contemporary topic –– the rising cost of higher education.

His 2004 book, Going Broke By Degree: Why College Costs Too Much, ultimately led to his appointment in 2005 as one of 20 representatives on the U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ Commission on the Future of Higher Education.

That opportunity then allowed him to participate in various Washington D.C. think tanks and economic advisory boards, one even for former President George W. Bush called the American Enterprise Institute.

In 2006, Vedder started his own Washington-based think tank, The Center for College Affordability and Productivity. He currently serves as the center’s director.

When he’s not traveling to various college campuses to give lectures, Vedder conducts research with students in an office above College Bookstore.

Together, Vedder and the student employees analyze a range of factors in a university’s economic budget.

Vedder, who’s appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, said his favorite part about his career is working with students.

“I would guess I’ve had 12,000 or so students,” said Vedder, after pulling out a sample collection of past gradebooks from his desk drawer, some going back decades. He keeps all of them, saying that sometimes, “they come in handy.”

His popularity runs as deep as his record-keeping. Vedder is frequently interrupted by students who come looking for him in his Bentley Annex office — when he’s in town.

Vedder has done “quite a bit of lecturing around the country,” he said. “I go from coast to coast, north to south.”

Some of his students even get the chance to accompany him and his wife, Karen, on a European excursion in the summer months.

Karen has three degrees from OU, including a Ph.D. Their son Virin, 41, was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of OU, and Vedder’s daughter, Vanette Vedder Furney, 37, attended Northwestern University.

Since 1968, the Vedder couple has traveled with OU students to a variety of European nations, including Germany, Hungary and, most recently, the Czech Republic.

As both a large-class lecture professor and a previous private tutor for the Honors Tutorial College, Vedder has influenced many students during his time in Athens.

“It is quite obvious that Vedder cares deeply about his students and their success both in college and afterwards,” Humphrey said. “I think this university will lose a lot when he decides not to teach anymore.”

Vedder’s influence reaches beyond his students. Faculty members and the direction of the economics department have also seen the effects of his work.

“Vedder was instrumental in setting the department on the course it followed for many years,” said William Shambora, associate professor of economics at OU. “Vedder has made his mark on the university as well, having been an outspoken advocate for his beliefs regarding quality education.”

Though his life has been both busy and rewarding, Vedder has found a balance between his professional and personal life.

Vedder, just before sitting down for an interview, finished booking a cruise to the Netherlands to see the tulips in bloom for the spring.

“It is hard to find many seasoned OU people who do not know the name Richard Vedder,” Shambora said.

This story also appears on The Post

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