After 50 Years at LSU, Professor Keeps Focus on Students, ‘Eternal Truth’ of Mathematics

April 29, 2024

Dr. Leonard Richardson at the front of his classroom


The number 50 doesn’t impress this mathematician.

It is true that Dr. Leonard Richardson, the Herbert Huey McElveen Professor of Mathematics, has been teaching at LSU for half a century. But that fact is hardly noteworthy in his opinion.

“Fifty is just 2X5²,” he says. Nothing more; nothing less.

On the other hand, Mathematics — and the students who come to him to learn its "eternal truth" — are everything to Richardson.

And, yes, to Richardson, it's Mathematics with a capital M. 

“Mathematics is pure deductive logic.  It is used in many important, if ephemeral ways,” he says.When done well, it exhibits an amazing beauty and turns darkness into light.  Its role in nature tells us something remarkable about the universe in which we live.” 

Richardson is among the faculty and staff members being recognized at the end of the 2023-24 school year for milestones in their service to LSU, in his case 50 years.  He takes slight exception to the word “service.”  

I don't think of my work as service.  It is simply what I was meant to do,” he says.  “Of course, I am grateful to LSU for providing the place for me to work.  But I am guided in my work by responsibility for the integrity of Mathematics, and to help each human being who walks into my classroom or through my office door, to the very limited extent of my ability.” 

A career in academics seemed obvious to Richardson early on, he says. At the age of 14, he started teaching Saturday afternoon classes at a club.

“Every parent has an obligation to teach his or her children, so I learned from my parents," he says.  “It seemed obvious that I should share what I learned with others."  

“My interest is in life and the future. Working with my students keeps me oriented properly this way, thinking about the future through their young lives.”

Dr. Leonard Richardson, Herbert Huey McElveen Professor of Mathematics at LSU

He notes that it’s been 54 years since he received his PhD (Yale University in 1970 under the guidance of renowned mathematician G. D. Mostow). It was at the end of his postdoctoral years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that he chose LSU over two other universities. He had his reasons.   

One was a former teaching assistant from Yale who now worked at LSU. It was comforting to know there was someone he knew, and who knew him, on campus. “The other reason was that there were two very distinguished senior mathematicians at the LSU Math Department," he says, "and this gave me confidence that it would be well run.”    

Today, Richardson remains focused on the Mathematics, along with helping his students succeed. “My interest is in life and the future,” he says.  “Working with my students keeps me oriented properly this way, thinking about the future through their young lives.

"Professors have the extraordinary blessing of getting to borrow their neighbors' children for a while to share with them."  

His dedication and care show in his instructions to students taking his classes, which are based on three pillars: Attend class, do homework, and ask questions. Always ask questions, he emphasizes: When you are curious. When you are confused. And especially if you’re feeling discouraged or when the going gets tough. “Every single one of you is important to me,” he says in his classroom materials.   

Dr. Leonard Richardson teaches class

“I hope each student will enjoy learning unexpected surprises about the mathematical world.  And I hope each student will succeed in finding the kind of work which he or she will wish to continue doing, even after many decades of doing it.”  

As a distinguished scholar in the field of mathematics, Richardson specializes in Harmonic Analysis, Nilmanifolds, and Representation Theory. He has authored two well-regarded textbooks: "Advanced Calculus: An Introduction to Linear Analysis" and "Measure and Integration: A Concise Introduction to Real Analysis."    

For 21 years, he served as the graduate director of the Math Department, significantly influencing the professional paths of many graduate students and securing nearly 20 state and federal grants for graduate fellowships. During that time, he says he especially appreciated his LSU colleagues, who supported his efforts.  

“I was glad to learn that the love and caring for our graduate students is something about which we all agree,” he says. “I have many wonderful colleagues, past and present. And of course I have benefited from my many interactions with them.” 

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