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Isaiah Leo Sharfman
LSA Minutes


I. Leo Sharfman, Professor Emeritus of Economics and former Chairman of the Department of Economics, died on September 9, 1969, at the Mar Salle Nursing Home in Washington, D.C. He was eighty-three years of age. He is survived by his wife, Minnie S.; a daughter, Mrs. William Gilmartin; and two sons, Nelson A. and Warren L.

Professor Sharfman was born in the Ukraine on February 19, 1886, and came to the United States in 1894. He attended the Boston Latin School from 1898 to 1904. He enrolled in Harvard College in 1904 and received his A.B. in 1907. While attending Harvard Law School, which granted him the LL.B. in 1910, he served as Assistant in Economics in Harvard College.

In 1910 and 1911 Professor Sharfman was Professor of Law and Political Science at the Imperial Pei-Yang University in Tientsin, China, returning to the United States in 1912 to serve as chief investigator for the commission on Regulation of Public Utilities of the National Civic Foundation. Later that year, he was appointed Lecturer in Economics at The University of Michigan, and became Professor in 1914, Ann Arbor thus became the home of the Sharfmans, where they continued to live until 1967, when illness and the desire to be nearer their children led them to sell their home on Baldwin Avenue and move to Washington, D.C.

Professor Sharfman was made Chairman of the Department of Economics in 1927 and held the post until his retirement in 1955. He became Henry Carter Adams University Professor of Economics in 1947.

In addition to his academic responsibilities, Professor Sharfman had an outstanding record of public service, serving on numerous Federal boards and commissions between 1923 and 1952, particularly in relation to labor disputes on the railroads. He was active in many professional societies, serving as President of the American Economic Association in 1945, of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters in 1953-54, and of the Research Club of The University of Michigan in 1938-39. He was the Henry Russel Lecturer in 1943, was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws by Brandeis University in 1964, and was elected as a distinguished fellow of the American Economic Association in 1965.

Upon his retirement in 1955, Professor Sharfman was appointed a trustee of Brandeis University. He assumed this new responsibility with great vigor despite failing health. He became concerned and involved in the many problems of a relatively new educational venture. This interest did much to sustain him and provide an outlet for his energies in the years of retirement.

Professor Sharfman's publications centered on railroad and public utility problems: Railway Regulation, 1915, was an analysis of underlying problems in railway economics from the standpoint of government regulation; The American Railroad Problem, 1921, was a study of the railroads during war and reconstruction. His great contribution, however, was The Interstate Commerce Commission, a study in administrative law and procedure, which appeared in five volumes between 1931 and 1938. On the basis of this work, Harvard University awarded him in 1939 the James Barr Ames Prize for legal writing. The work has been out of print for several years and is now being reissued. Professor Sharfman died the day before the first copy of the new edition reached Washington. In addition, Professor Sharfman contributed a score of articles to leading economic journals.

Professor Sharfman spent a lifetime at The University of Michigan - remarkable in our time of changing employment. Professor Sharfman spent more than a quarter of a century as Chairman of the Economics Department - remarkable in our time of reluctance to persist with administrative responsibilities. Professor Sharfman spent two decades in preparing a grand opus - remarkable in our time of monographs and shifting interests of researchers.

Professor Sharfman lived for the Economics Department of The University of Michigan and identified himself with the Department. The quality and growth of the Department became his personal problems. When a member of his staff or a graduate student was successful, he rejoiced; when they failed to accomplish what he hoped for them to achieve, he felt personally hurt.

But Professor Sharfman's interests were not parochial. He prepared for, and attended, virtually every meeting of the Literary College faculty and every meeting of the University Senate for over four decades. He was recognized and respected as one of the intellectual leaders of the College and University communities. When issues became confused in faculty discussion, Professor Sharfman could be relied upon to put matters straight. His fine legal mind required that evidence be supplied in support of a position. His own position was never taken until he had carefully scrutinized all relevant information.

In his teaching, Professor Sharfman insisted upon the same careful preparation that one would give to a brief to be used in a court of law. His lecture always appeared as a finished product -- there were no loose ends. It is not surprising that a course from Sharfman was almost a requirement for many generations of Michigan students planning to enter Law School as well as for those who planned to pursue graduate work in economics.

In his office in the Economics Building, Professor Sharfman was strictly an administrator who always kept a neat desk and was reputed always to be the first to respond to the innumerable requests for information from departmental heads. To those who did not know him, he appeared cold and somewhat forbidding. But to those who knew him well, and especially when he was at home, Professor Sharfman was a gracious host and a very warm human being.

Professor Sharfman had a wide circle of friends who both respected and loved him. The respect shown by several generations of his students is only in part illustrated by their support of the Sharfman Fund, established in 1955 to provide a Graduate Fellowship in Economics. Over seventy thousand dollars have been contributed to this Fund by students, relatives, and friends of Professor Sharfman. It is a measure of their awareness of his deep love for the University that his children requested, upon his death, that donations be made to the Sharfman Fund in lieu of sending flowers.

Memorial Committee
Gardner Ackley
George Katona
William B. Palmer (Chairman)