EPIC Spotlight: Charles Britton

Charles Britton figures he has taught about 25,000 University of Arkansas students since arriving on campus in 1969. He’s seen the construction of four buildings for the sole purpose of business education. He was among the “eight or nine” faculty members who made up the economics department. Now that number has more than doubled.

But the economics department will soon have a vacancy. Britton is retiring.

For years, Britton has taught a wide range of courses to graduate and undergraduate students, including the large introductory micro and macroeconomic classes required for many majors across campus. A few of his former students have since become Walton College faculty. They include Nelson Driver (finance), John Cole and Molly Rapert (both marketing).

When he thinks that he has taught during six decades, he’s taken aback. “I’ve got to go off and play,” he says.

A lot has changed on campus, including the hiring procedures and benefits. Britton says that when he was signing his paperwork for his UA contract, a university employee involved with the hiring process presented Britton with a loyalty oath – something the university no longer does.

“I asked, ‘Is this a trick question since a communist would immediately sign it while an individual who truly believed in the U.S. Constitution would not?’” Britton recalls. “He replied, ‘Just sign it.’”

He says insurance also wouldn’t cover his wife’s expenses related to her pregnancy. It was considered a pre-existing condition. “Thankfully that has changed,” he says.

Britton was still working on his doctoral dissertation as a University of Iowa student when he began his job in Arkansas. Before there was a Walton College campus, business faculty were housed in what is now known as Ozark Hall. Britton says his office was one of six that was divided with partitions for walls. There was no air conditioning, which made wearing a coat and tie – male faculty dress code at the time – brutal during the warmer months.

A native of Hays, Kansas, Britton attended the University of Missouri. He had difficulty choosing a major until he noticed something unusual about his history class: the female students were amazingly attractive. “If girls look like this, by God I’m a history major!” Britton remembers telling himself.

A woman in the class named Jana caught his eye. The two married while both were undergraduate students and became the parents of three children and six grandchildren. Britton and his wife celebrated their 50th anniversary before she died in 2013.

Yet Britton didn’t stay with history as a college major. He discovered, through his economics classes, that he had been incorporating economics into his daily life for years.

“I think it was always an economics major,” he says. “I just didn’t know what it is.”

He says he has always found himself contemplating the economics to one’s decision, which isn’t always necessarily monetary. His endless questions on a variety of economic issues have resulted with work published in dozens of journals and conferences through the years. Water consumption has been a favorite subject, and he has traveled across the globe – from Tucson, Arizona, to the Suez Canal – in his research. He has received numerous grants in his career to research a “smorgasbord” of subjects, from rural and urban development to various monetary issues.

He has also received numerous teaching awards and nominations by UA students and organizations.

But now, he has grandchildren, whose pictures are proudly displayed in his office. He foresees hiking, refinishing furniture and spending time in his Rocky Mountains condominium in his future. But, he admits, it will be a huge change from his routine as a Walton College professor. “It has been a good ride,” he says.