Professor Emeritus Michael Perelman, who taught economics at Chico State for 47 years, passed away September 21. He was 80.
Born October 1, 1939, he studied at the University of Michigan and San Francisco State University before earning his PhD in agricultural economics from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1971, he was hired as an economics professor at Chico State, the start of a career that would span almost a half-century. He is remembered as much for the deep connections he formed with his students and colleagues, as well as a speaker at economic summits throughout the world and prolific author—writing 19 books and numerous articles during his decades-long tenure.
As a scholar, Perelman also frequently connected with individuals around the globe to share in their study of economics. Rodrigo Moreno Marques, now a professor at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil, had the chance to work with him in 2012 as a PhD candidate after reading several of his books. They met every morning that summer to study and work in his campus office, and Marques remembers him to be enthusiastic and thought-provoking.
“The aims of Perelman’s work and life were clear for me: not only to reveal the contradictions of our unequal and unfair society but also to develop ways and strategies to overcome its barbarism,” he said. “Throughout his life, mainly devoted to emancipating human beings, he has planted these seeds. They have been growing and will continue to produce many fruits. Someday the world that Michael envisioned in his dreams will be the world we will live in.”
Vincent Portillo (English, ’09; MA, English, ’15), who now is a PhD candidate at Syracuse University, met Perelman as a master’s student in the English Department while taking a handful of economics classes and remembers him to be a generous and welcoming man. Memorably, Portillo said Perelman offered him the opportunity to co-author a book manuscript on the political economy of war.
“I was certainly ‘unqualified’ in that I did not hold the credentials for the work he proposed,” he said. “Michael set me up with a desk and an office next to his. We read, wrote, and sometimes revised side-by-side. Michael gave me a chance others would have likely denied me, teaching me the value of mentorship and community as twin foundations of our work as researchers and teachers.”
Statistics professor Edward Roualdes (Mathematics, Economics, ’08) recalls that with Perelman’s infectious personality and deep passion for economics, he was “just the professor I needed when I started as a student at Chico State.”
“For those students who wanted a standard macroeconomics course, he provided it. For the other students who wanted to be more adventurous, he catered to it,” he said. “Michael’s love of learning was infectious. I caught the bug. If I’ve had any successes as an academic, Michael deserves much of the credit.”
Even though it’s been nearly 40 years since Brian Kelly (Economics, ’80) had Perelman as his professor and advisor, he remembers him as both a bright and wonderful instructor and a caring human being.
“Dr. Perelman was not the most conventional professor, teaching classes in Marxist economics and economics of underdeveloped countries—most often with the lights off or lowly dimmed,” Kelly said. “While most of Chico’s economic professors at the time had a more conservative appearance, Dr. Perelman with his long hair and beard, flip-flops, and soft-spoken manner did not fit that mold. I learned a lot from him and will remember him always as a wonderful and passionate professor and for the positive imprint he made on me.”
A fearless cyclist, Perelman biked to work every day, rain or shine, and pedaled to the gym daily at lunch, where he would listen to podcasts while exercising. Wildcat Recreation Center Director Curtis Sicheneder shared that even after his retirement in 2018, Perelman remained a regular and in addition to traditional workouts, he always played basketball with the students while wearing his headphones.
“He was not the least bit intimidated to go up against much younger, faster, and stronger players,” Sicheneder said. “I think the students respected his grit and enjoyed having him in the games.”
Perelman is survived by his wife, Blanche, daughter Jessica, and brother Dale. Final arrangements have taken place.
The University flag will be lowered Monday, November 9, in his honor.