In 2005, friends and family of beloved UNC political science professor Richard J. Richardson pledged $666,000, which was supplemented with $334,000 from the N.C. Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund, to establish the Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professorship in the College of Arts and Sciences. The professorship was created to attract or retain a senior teacher and scholar of American politics in the political science department.

Tom Uhlman (’71 M.S., ’75 Ph.D.) made the lead gift in the endowed professorship honoring Richardson, who retired in 2000 after a 30-year tenure.

“Dick’s teaching and excellence combined with his warm and open personality drew me to him as well as his favorite subject — the law,” Uhlman said. “I was both inspired and challenged by him. During difficult times as a graduate student his door was always open.”

Uhlman is not alone in his admiration of Richardson, who left a teaching position at Western Michigan University to join Carolina’s political science faculty in 1969. Former students remember him not only as an inspiring educator but also as a friend and mentor, always ready to listen and give advice.

Richardson once joked, “With the single exception of cannibalism, I believe that I have discussed every problem known or encountered by an 18-year-old.” It was this candid wit and approachable demeanor that caused Richardson’s students to fall in love with him.

A Missouri native, Richardson earned a bachelor’s degree in public affairs from Hardin College in 1957. At Tulane University, he earned a master’s degree in 1961 and a doctorate in 1967, both in political science.

During his career as a professor at Carolina, Richardson earned four awards for excellence in undergraduate teaching. His honors include the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award, the Order of the Golden Fleece, the Order of the Grail, the Society of Janus, the Thomas Jefferson Award, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the James Johnston Undergraduate Teaching Award, the General Alumni Association’s Faculty Service Award and the Order of the Old Well.

In 1995, then-Chancellor Michael Hooker ’69 selected Richardson to be UNC’s provost. Richardson agreed hesitantly, reluctant to give up teaching, which he cherished above all. As the University’s chief academic officer, Richardson served as faculty chair of Carolina’s bicentennial celebration, working for three years to conduct over 100 special events, programs and performances.

Even as an administrator, Richardson remained passionate about undergraduate teaching and valued the University’s commitment to both research and teaching. “There’s a very deep sense in this university that one can be a great research institution and provide a great undergraduate experience at the same time,” Richardson said.

Richardson retired in 2000 to spend time with his wife, Sue, and his four children and nine grandchildren. In 2005, he received the William Richardson Davie Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Board of Trustees recognizing extraordinary service to the University or to society.

Although his tenure has ended, Richardson remains involved in and dedicated to Carolina. Since his retirement, he has served as chairman of the Robertson Scholars program external advisory board and worked with the Institute for the Arts and Humanities Leader Training program. He also remains active in his service outside of Carolina, working with Heifer International, an organization that offers hungry families around the world a way to feed themselves and become self-reliant by providing them with farm animals and training in agricultural techniques.

Richardson describes the ideal Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professorship candidate as “someone who is passionate about undergraduates and especially passionate about teaching. Someone who is willing to put in the long hours of extra time necessary to be there for the students.”

(Portions taken from Richard J. Richardson’s William Richardson Davie Medal acceptance speech, a spring 2002 Poli Sci @ Carolina newsletter article and a Jan./Feb. 1997 Carolina Alumni Review article by David E. Brown and Karen C. Blansfield.)

The Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor

2009 – Present: Frank R. Baumgartner