In Memoriam: Remembering Professor Emeritus Harvey Botwin

Professor Emeritus Harvey Botwin, who shaped the study of economics at Pitzer, passed away in November 2015. He was the first—and for years the only—economics professor at Pitzer; all six classes listed in economics in the 1967-68 course catalog were taught by one Mr. Botwin.

Botwin taught everything econ, from the History of Economic Thought to The Stock Market. The seemingly simple No. 2 pencil served as the centerpiece for his legendary lecture about how human innovation and economic impetus drive the creation of everyday objects.

In 1975, Botwin established Pitzer’s Summer in London external studies program. Based at the London School of Economics, on the island that produced Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes, he taught students about the international economy with “a particularly Botwinian flavor,” Marian McNamee ’83 recounts in a 1980 Participant.

The economics professor brought that “Botwinian flavor” to generations of Pitzer students. Tracy Tindle ’82 once said Botwin’s students felt like they were “part of an ever-increasing extended family.” He created that sense of family both literally and figuratively at Pitzer. His daughter, Michele Botwin Raphael ’92, graduated from the College, and he and his wife, Harriet, regularly hosted dinners for colleagues at their home.

Although Botwin was an economist’s economist who delighted in elucidating the inner workings of inflation, he described himself as a “radical eclectic.” Known as “Pitzer’s first search engine,” he inhaled newspapers and distributed countless articles among students and colleagues. He had a penchant for colorful shirts, an unapologetic passion for the Yankees and a deep love of fine cars, including a red Alfa Romeo he once owned that looked like he drove it off the set of The Graduate. He brought his passion for automobiles into the classroom with his course Cars and Culture, which he co-taught with Professor Emeritus of Sociology Rudi Volti.

When founding faculty member and Professor Emeritus of Classics Stephen L. Glass spoke at Professor Botwin’s memorial service in November, he said that, in the right hands, i.e. Botwinian hands, a classroom can be viewed as a sacred space.

“A classroom is not unlike Delphi, a place where daily enlightenment and revolution spring from some divinely inspired guide,” Glass said. “Fine scholars abound, but truly great teachers are exceedingly rare, which is why each of us can remember but two or three of them in our lives whose guidance permanently altered portions and perceptions of our existence. Harvey Botwin was surely one such.”