Deceased September 14, 2021

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In Memory

Rob died Sept. 14, quickly and painlessly, in Needham, Mass., of complications from a fall two weeks earlier.

In high school, he competed in swimming and many track events. Theta Delt at Amherst, he captained the swim team and became New England backstroke champion. Swimming was a lifelong passion. He was a dedicated member of the Swarthmore 1,000 Lap Club.

Rob majored in economics, receiving his Ph.D. at Stanford in 1965, where he met Valerie Dutton. The newlyweds headed to France, where Rob worked for the OECD. In Paris, they developed a love for wine. A Julia Child cookbook forever transformed their culinary lives.

Rob joined the War on Poverty in 1966 with the Office of Economic Opportunity. He played a major role in the design, implementation and analysis of the first large-scale use of random-assignment experiments, previously used in medicine, to assess the impact of public policy. This use of randomized experiments was new and controversial, and Rob became a leading advocate and expert, convincing policymakers and fellow scholars that this approach was crucial for properly assessing the effects of a program. Over the years, he worked on randomized evaluations of anti-poverty, job training, education and child care programs. Today random-assignment experiments are widely accepted by policymakers and economists as the gold standard. Indeed, the 2019 Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to developmental economists using these methods.

Rob joined the economics department at Swarthmore College in 1971, teaching until retirement in 2015. He was known across campus for his “uniform” of shorts and Birkenstocks and widely recognized for his dedication to his students.

With a laid-back personality, a great sense of humor and a love of puns, he refused to be serious when someone was taking a photograph.

Rob is survived by Valerie, two daughters and two grandkids.

Peter Levison ’56