Beloved economics professor Carl Liedholm retires

May 9, 2018 - Jeff Biddle, Associate Chair of Economics

In April 2018, Professor Carl Liedholm taught his last class as a member of the MSU faculty of economics, and later that afternoon, a reception was held to mark his retirement after 53 years of service to Michigan State.

The reception room at the Kellogg Center was packed with members of Liedholm’s family, fellow faculty members from the Department of Economics, and numerous other friends and colleagues from the University and the community. Midway through the gathering, a contingent from the Spartan Marching Band arrived to play the Spartan Fight Song, the Alma Mater, and an assortment of other MSU fan favorites. Then Sparty made a guest appearance. All in all, it was something more than the ordinary retirement reception, but that is not surprising, as Liedholm has had something more than the ordinary career at MSU.

Liedholm joined the Department of Economics at MSU in 1965, after completing his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. While he has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses over the course of his career, he is probably best known as a teacher of introductory Microeconomics, lecturing from a stage in front of an auditorium filled with hundreds of students.  Introductory Microeconomics is taken by more students than almost any other course at MSU, and Liedholm taught a significant fraction of those students over his five-decade career – easily more than 10,000 MSU graduates had Liedholm as a professor at some point in their college careers.

It is not the quantity of Liedholm’s teaching that is most remarkable, however, but the consistently high quality of that teaching. Liedholm is a master of conveying the essentials of economics to large audiences in an engaging and entertaining way. Over the years, he received over a dozen teaching awards, including the Outstanding Teaching Awards given by the State of Michigan, MSU and the Colleges of Social Science and Business. Beyond that, he developed the first on line course in economics at MSU and was the first instructor in the United States to incorporate personal response devices into an economics class.  As  Liedholm noted in some brief remarks at the reception, he has always enjoyed teaching, and is invigorated by his interactions with classes large and small.

While developing over the years a well-deserved reputation as one of MSU’s finest classroom teachers, Liedholm was also producing a significant body of research. He began his research career as a specialist in development economics, with a particular interest in discovering solutions to the economic challenges facing the newly independent countries of Africa. Over time, his research took him to other continents as well, and from his early years through 1998, he obtained several million dollars in research grants from the World Bank and USAID for undertaking pioneering research on micro and small scale industries around the world.  This work led to four books and over a hundred published articles and papers.

Liedholm’s career at MSU has also been marked by generous service to the larger mission of the University. Given his reputation as a teacher who could lecture effectively to hundreds of students, it is not surprising that he was frequently called upon to speak at such events as the Academic Welcome Convocation, an annual gathering of thousands of incoming freshmen and their parents, and the Alumni Distinguished Scholarship Competition, which brings hundreds of the top high school students in the country to the MSU campus each spring.

At the retirement reception, one of the speakers was Paul Clabuesch, who was a student in one of Liedholm’s  Introductory Microeconomics classes in the 1960s, and who many years later become his colleague on the Board of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis. Clabuesch did not comment as to Carl’s energy level when teaching in those days, but it is hard to imagine that it could have been  much higher than the level of energy that Carl brought to his final semester of teaching at MSU. In retirement, Carl will be expending that energy in other directions – continuing his research on Michigan maps and his service as a Board Member of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis, devoting more time to his cello playing, and, with his wife Margaret, spending more time at their condo on Lake Michigan.