Newsletter Fall 2010 Letter from the Chair


Every year I sit down to a blank screen and begin to try to recall key events of this past year, and try to look briefly into my crystal ball to see if there are any glimmers of the future. As I try to compose my "Words" for this newsletter, I notice that there is a tray of donuts on the counter. The question that occurs to me is: "Can an academic department subsist on Top Pot Donuts?" Some days it seems like we do.

Lately, I am beginning to think about a life without being Chair of the Department of Philosophy. It has been a part of my existence for 14 years now. It has been a good time, and I have had many moments when I really appreciate my situation. But I have not written about the more subtle and perhaps subjective aspects of the job.

First for me there is the staff. Gina Gould, Undergraduate Adviser; Beverly Wessel, Administrator; and Barbara Mack, Graduate Program Assistant have been with me throughout most of these years. For much of the time our offices have been in the same suite so that we can hear each other and interact quickly if we need to do so. The joy and daily interactions with these individuals has been the best part of being chair. They are so able, so dedicated, and at the same time, so willing to laugh and make the best of situations, that I have come to look forward to the hum of activity that is part of our daily routine. Whenever they can, they give me "a bad time" but it is never harsh and quite frankly, it is usually deserved. Kate Goldyn joined the staff as our outreach coordinator a couple of years ago, and she has fit right in, as has Annette Bernier who joined us last year. Each of these individuals has a specific set of tasks, which if left undone would bring the whole program to a halt.

Right there with my staff are my colleagues in the department. I am struck by how many colleagues have joined the faculty since I became chair, and many of those have been promoted or are soon going to be promoted. Again I could not ask for a more collegial group. As Chair, there have been moments that one could wish never happened, but overwhelmingly each and every member of this collective is valuable and has in different ways and at different times accomplished tasks that are vital to the department's interests. My job is to help faculty members get what they need to do their research and complete their teaching. When the group is as deserving as this one, this is a pleasure… even if I sometimes go home at night and feel like if I am asked to do one more thing, I will scream. When I first began, I was told that being Chair would be a lot like trying to herd cats. In fact that is true, but they are likeable cats and very impressive in their intelligence and scholarship.

Students are, of course, our bread and butter. Without skilled graduate students we could simply not teach the number of undergraduates that want and need our courses. Watching a graduate student move from a green novice to a professional individual is one of the great rewards of this job. Undergraduates are simply dazzling in their array of talents, ambitions, and situations. Talking to students is one of my great pleasures. They always come by in waves, nothing at the beginning of the quarter, and building into a deluge by the end of the quarter. Many students now participate in study abroad programs and their accounts of how they spent their time is always delightful, although I often wonder how they can go so long without sleep.

Finally, there are our alumni. They serve on our Advisory Board, and do many things that benefit everyone! For example, when the travel ban was imposed by the State of Washington, they provided funds to send faculty members and students to conferences to present their research. Recently I have heard from several of my old students, some going back to the 1970s. It is wonderful to hear from them and to be able to appreciate their accomplishments. They often note that their major in philosophy was important to those accomplishments. However, I don't like the fact that many of them are already retired. I don't think they should be able to retire before their teacher… I guess I like my job.

- Ken Clatterbaugh, Chair

People Involved: 
News Category: