Earl Cheit, 1926-2014

A leading academic administrator who also made a major contribution to business economics has died

August 28, 2014

Source: UC Berkeley

Earl Cheit, generally known as “Budd”, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 5 August 1926 but grew up in Hague, North Dakota. He attended the University of Minnesota from 1945 to 1954, where he completed a degree in law, followed by a JD (professional doctorate) and a PhD in economics. His thesis, “A study of some possible incentive effects of workmen’s compensation benefits”, exploded the common idea that better compensation for workers’ injuries would only encourage “malingering”.

Although he started his working life practising law and labour arbitration alongside teaching at the University of Minnesota, Professor Cheit joined the department of economics at Saint Louis University in 1954. While there, he later recalled, he agreed to supervise an election giving the employees of a taxicab company the chance to vote on whether they wanted to continue their union affiliation. The poll took place in “a little candy storefront”, where the police soon turned up and arrested a man carrying a gun – who turned out to be Professor Cheit’s bodyguard.

In 1957, he moved to the University of California, Berkeley. He remained there until he retired as Edgar F. Kaiser professor of business and public policy emeritus in 1991. He was employed initially in what was then the Institute of Industrial Relations to run a project on occupational disability, which led to his important book Injury and Recovery in the Course of Employment (1961). In 1960, he became professor of business in what is now Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

One of the first multidisciplinary academic conferences on business and society resulted in Professor Cheit’s edited book The Business Establishment (1964). He also used a sabbatical at the Carnegie Commission to produce a financial analysis of 41 US universities, published to much soul-searching and debate as The New Depression in Higher Education (1971).

The upheavals around the Free Speech Movement in 1964 saw Professor Cheit elected on to the Emergency Executive Committee of the Academic Senate. He went on to become executive vice-chancellor of UC Berkeley (1965-69) and would eventually serve twice as dean of the business school (1976-82 and 1990-91), as well as vice-president of financial and business management for the whole University of California system (1981-82).

Professor Cheit died of cancer on 2 August and is survived by his wife June, four children and three grandchildren.


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