Stephen Resnick, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts who made a name for himself as a champion of Marxian economics, died on Jan. 2. He was 74.
The cause of death was leukemia.
Resnick, who taught at UMass for nearly four decades, challenged the norm of neoclassical dominance in mainstream economic thought in an effort to teach a balance between three major types of thinking in the field: Neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian.
In 1973, Resnick and four other professors moved to ply their trade at UMass, a move one of his close friends and colleagues, Richard Wolff, said put the economics department “on the map.”
“The idea was that UMass would depart from the old, and in our minds, stale conventions of mainstream economics in order to make UMass Amherst a different kind of economics department – one that had the conventional stuff but also was interested in and committed to teaching the alternative approaches to economics that most other economics departments were afraid to include in the curriculum,” Wolff said. “UMass instantly transformed from another economics department alongside countless others into the number one diverse heterodox economics department.
“Nobody was more responsible for that than Stephen Resnick,” he added.
It was at Yale that Resnick met Wolff, a then-graduate student who Resnick would go on to produce a number of publications with. Together, the pair of Marxian thinkers shared office space in Thompson Hall, where they launched a quarterly journal called “Rethinking Marxism,” wrote eight books and penned over 30 scholarly articles.
Over his career, Resnick spent close to a half-century teaching in the classroom, including 38 years teaching courses at UMass.
While he did teach upper-level classes in Marxian theory, Resnick also took the lead in the basic introduction course in the department, Economics 103. Explaining that the course was essentially an introduction to the mainstream Neoclassical school of economic thought, Wolff said that Resnick “believed it was his duty as a reasonable intellectual to make sure students were also exposed to the analysis of capitalism put forward by people who were critical of it.”
With regard to Resnick’s teaching ability, Wolff said the awards do the talking for his longtime colleague and friend.
“As a teacher, Steve taught at Yale University, City University of New York and at UMass,” Wolff said. “At each of these institutions he won every teaching award any of those institutions offered to anyone.”
Resnick was awarded the University Distinguished Teaching Award for the 1997-98 school year, in addition to the Outstanding Teacher Award in the Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Fellow Professor John Stifler, who joined UMass in 1984 as part of the new Junior Year Writing program, was able to watch Resnick up close as he gained his footing at the University.
“In the classroom, Steve Resnick was the picture of lucidity,” Stifler said. “You could have a lecture hall of 300 people and if he was giving a lecture, not one of them would be asleep.”
“I watched him teach,” Stifler added.“Watching Steve reassured me immediately that at the university level I could be just as personal with the students. Making sure I knew their names, looking them in the eye, cross-examining them. Making them really think hard about what they were saying.”
Stifler said Resnick was not only a notable storyteller, but also someone who was “hilariously funny” with “a very quick wit.”
“He was just a wonderful, warm person and I miss him terribly,” Stifler added.
Originally from New Bedford, Resnick graduated from the University of Pennsylvania before receiving his Ph.D in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963. He first taught as an assistant professor at Yale and then moved to the City College of New York before coming to UMass.
In 2011, Resnick retired from the department’s teaching faculty and took up a three-year term as the Helen Sheridan Memorial Scholar, during which he intended to complete a pair of projects. In 2012, Wolff and Resnick published their final work together: “Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian.
Wolff, who now teaches as a professor in the graduate program in International Affairs at the New School University in Manhattan, said he believes Resnick’s legacy lives on in the work that he did in establishing the UMass economics department as a program dedicated to diverse thinking.
“Give him the respect of making sure that the work he did – the articles, the books – continue to be part of the curriculum at UMass,” Wolff said. “That the University not allow the particular approach that he favored, the commitment he had, especially to Marxian economics and making that a central part of the curriculum, that that not be allowed to fade away”
“If that does happen, the risk is not only do people miss out on all that Steve Resnick achieved, but it does also mean that the University of Massachusetts, at least in terms of its economics department, will slide back into the cookie cutter replica of every other economics department instead of being the outstanding, open, diverse, multi-approach department that made it so famous,” Wolff added.
Resnick is survived by his wife, three children and six grandchildren.
Jeffrey Okerman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.