Richards, Charles R. (1865-1936) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections
Richards graduated from Purdue University in 1890 and accepted a position as an instructor in mechanical engineering at the Colorado Agricultural College. In 1911 he moved to the University of Nebraska until 1917 when he took a job at the University of Illinois. It was at Illinois where he was Dean of the College of Engineering and Director of the Experimental Engineering Department, that Lehigh University found Richards and offered him the presidency.
Richards became Lehigh University's sixth president. He had a vision for running the university from a "business point of view," and started by reorganizing the Board of Trustees. He allowed alumni to have power that never existed for them in the past and put the board in charge of fundraising for the school. Although the administration still had control over the allocation of resources, teachers were given more jurisdiction over their individual programs. The faculty was also allowed to elect members for their committees although Richards still had the power to choose the chairmen.
Under Richards, women were accepted to Lehigh and awarded graduate degrees. Because of the Depression, Lehigh suffered a shortage of students between 1929 and 1936. Richards separated the Office of the Registrar from the Dean's Office in 1926 and rather than lowering the university's standards, increased enrollment by developing new methods of recruitment. New fellowships and university scholarships were created, he introduced a career placement office in 1932, the Arts and Engineering program was formed in 1934, and two new engineering curriculums--Engineering Physics and Industrial Engineering--were developed. The IE program was particularly popular at its inception as it combined regular mechanical engineering classes with psychology and business administration. Richards placed an emphasis on the importance of new scientific information and wanted university testing centers to focus only on modern research.
Richards oversaw the construction of the Alumni Memorial Building, a memorial to alumni who were veterans of World War I, and Packard Laboratory. Both were completed in 1925, although his special concern was for the renovation of Linderman Library. The building and its resources had been neglected for a number of years and were falling into disrepair. In 1924, Richards appointed a full-time director of the library and created plans for making books and other materials more accessible to Lehigh students. The addition was completed in 1929.
While at the University of Illinois, Richards had founded the National Mechanical Engineering Honor Society, Pi Tau Sigma. In 1944, the society joined with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) to create an award in his honor. Richards was a member of Tau Beta Pi. He was an active member of the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education (SPEE), now known as the American Society for Engineering Education, and was a member of the Committee Surveying Supplementary Services and Facilities for the Wickenden study. He was also the 1924 Chairman of the Section on Engineering of the Advancing Science, Serving Society.