Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

May 2, 2013

Obituary: Robert Perloff

perloffRobert Perloff, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Business Administration and of Psychology, died April 15, 2013. He was 92.

Perloff earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and mathematics at Temple. His graduate study was done at Ohio State, where he earned a master’s degree in quantitative psychology and a PhD in quantitative psychology and industrial psychology.

After graduation, Perloff was a supervisory research psychologist with the Department of the Army, then director of research and development for commercial testing organization Science Research Associates.

Perloff began teaching in Purdue’s psychology department, where he developed its consumer psychology program.

A pioneer in the fields of consumer psychology and program evaluation, he was recruited to Pitt in 1969 in order to expand research in business administration.

Here, he developed programming in evaluation research and program evaluation and served as a consultant to a number of corporations, government entities and educational institutions. He was director of Pitt’s Management Research Center and of research programs (1969-77) in the Katz Graduate School of Business. He later directed Pitt’s consumer panel (1980-83).

He served on the University Senate’s community relations committee, its University Press committee and its elections committee and was a board member for The Pitt News and for The Book Center.

Perloff also was a member of the chancellor’s task force on budget administration and commonwealth relations, the committee on measuring faculty productivity and the University Center for Social and Urban Research program policy committee.

In 1989 Perloff was awarded the rank of Distinguished Service Professor of Business Administration and of Psychology. He retired from the University in 1991.

Perloff was active in professional organizations in his field, most notably the American Psychological Association, where he chaired boards and committees and served as treasurer, president-elect and, in 1985, president.

He held leadership positions in other professional groups, including the American Psychological Foundation (APF), the Evaluation Research Society, the Eastern Psychological Association and the Association for Consumer Research. He also served on the board of directors of the Greater Pittsburgh chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Among many awards and honors, Perloff in 2000 received the APF Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in Psychology in the Public Interest for his contributions to psychology and his devotion to social justice as a champion for the “rights and dignity of women, minorities, homosexuals and the poor, handicapped and elderly.”

Colleague James Craft, who came to Pitt in 1972, said Perloff took him under his wing, helping Craft not only to adjust to the University, but providing professional advice and support as well.

“He was a respected person in our school, as well as in the United States and internationally,” Craft said, citing Perloff’s influence in the fields of consumer psychology and the application of social psychology in management.

Craft said Perloff was a great listener, open to understanding differing perspectives and points of view. He remembered Perloff as very caring toward his family and friends.

“He always had time for his friends,” Craft said. “You knew when you interacted with him, he listened and was interested in you.”

Perloff was respectful of others and valued human beings. “He was very open,” said Craft, adding that Perloff was tolerant of differences and supportive of others’ lifestyles.

“If you liked what you were doing and weren’t hurting anyone, that was fine with him,” Craft said. “He listened, but he was not afraid to question and challenge.”

Perloff was a prolific writer, authoring hundreds of papers, comments and book reviews in the areas of consumer behavior, organizational psychology, program evaluation, measurement and statistics.

He had a gift for using wry humor and irony, not only in his writing, but in face-to-face interactions, Craft said.

Craft said Perloff sounded off on a broad range of subjects through frequent letters published in The New York Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the University Times, among others.

“He was an active person right to the end,” Craft said, adding that Perloff, in his retirement, would come to campus to write, commenting on social issues or serving up an intellectual challenge in his letters, which frequently were laced with wit and humor.

In the University Times, he took aim at Pitt’s choice to celebrate Great Americans Day in March as a substitute for the traditional mid-February Presidents’ Day holiday, labeling it in a 2002 letter a “cockamamie decision by the University’s calendar tinkerers;” and in 1997 skewered the creation of the “Pitt Promise” civility pledge as “knee-jerk lock-step obeisance to today’s ephemeral ‘flavor of the week’ civility …  saturated with groupthink, conformity and mediocrity.”

He used the forum frequently, commenting on topics including University leadership, Pitt’s budget and spending priorities, staff salaries, collective bargaining for professors, same-sex benefits and state funding.

Perloff is survived by his wife, Evelyn; son Richard; daughters Linda and Judy, and six grandchildren.

A memorial is planned at a later date.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Leave a Reply