Newsletter Fall 2011 From the Chair

Michael Rosenthal

Every coin has two sides. I learned this again when I told people that I had been asked to serve as Chair for the department. The first response that I heard was a quick "Congratulations," often accompanied with a handshake and smile. But the next thing I heard, almost immediately afterwards, was almost always, "Condolences." The same smile was present during both utterances. Being Chair is that kind of thing, I suppose. Let me say a little about both sides of the job.

On the one hand, I am lucky to be the leader of such a great department. Since I joined the faculty in 2003, I have learned a lot about my colleagues, our students, and the University in general. I never cease to be amazed at how talented, dedicated, and hardworking the faculty members are. Just this year, for instance, Bill Talbott and Steve Gardiner have published important books on such topics as human rights and the ethics of global climate change. The number of scholarly papers and lectures that we produce is astounding.

The idea of the modern university was founded on the notion that research has an important role in teaching. Bill Talbott has exemplified that ideal this year. Not only did he publish his book, he was also awarded the University's Distinguished Teaching Award. We now have three active faculty - Bill, Ann Baker, and Ron Moore - who have garnered this distinction. Every professor in the department teaches at every level of instruction. That means that all faculty members teach courses from large introductory lecture courses for undergraduates to specialized seminars for graduates. Our graduate students also contribute in important ways to our curriculum. They not only work hard to complete their own degrees but also spend long hours teaching discussion sections and grading papers.

We are also dedicated to addressing a broad intellectual community. We have a very active series of colloquia - run last year by Steve Gardiner and next year by Adam Moore - in which speakers from all over the country come to campus and lecture on a Friday afternoon to the department. Alison Wylie continues as the editor of Hypatia, a journal of feminist philosophy, and she also has launched a new collaboration with the Simpson Center for the Humanities and the Fred Hutchinson Center for Cancer Research devoted to the theme of "Biological Futures." Andrea Woody has been appointed to the prestigious post of Program Chair for the Philosophy of Science Association, a role in which she will help set the scholarly agenda in her field. Sara Goering organized along with Janelle Taylor, in Anthropology, the fascinating Rabinowitz Symposium on the topic of narratives in illness and medicine. Thanks to this generous endowment, we look forward to another event this coming year. The Program on Values, headed by Michael Blake, has also been busy, with a conference on the issue of Fair-Trade and Exploitation, and many talks on a variety of important topics.

Our students come to us with a great desire to learn and with great ambition to get ahead in the world. How many times have I seen comments on evaluations for an "Introduction to Philosophy" course that say things like "I never would have thought about such things" or "This course really changed the way I see the world"? Undergraduates are thirsty for what we have to offer. I encourage you to attend our graduation ceremony, at least once. There you will see not only smiles of family and friends but also hear about the wonderful things our students intend to do with their lives. Our graduate students are vital parts of the department. They are crucial to the undergraduate program and they engage us with their work in conversation and in seminars. There is no better feeling than to see one of our students complete a dissertation and make his or her own contribution to the field. Our office staff does so much with great efficiency and with great humor. I look forward to working with them over the next few years. So many good things.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that this is a time of great challenge for the department and university. As you all know, the University of Washington has suffered a historic cut in funding from the state, more than 50% in the last three years.

We have a new model of financing education, one that does not equitably share the burden among all citizens but places it increasingly on individual students (and often their families) through higher tuition. I think that it is safe to say that this change is not simply a response to the recession but also ideological. That is, it represents a new way to think about the financing and purposes of education in our state, one that will remain with us, even as the economic climate (hopefully) changes for the better.

As a department we need to do several things to respond to these new circumstances. First, we need to continue our emphasis of undergraduate education and teaching. In the end, it will be the quality of education that we can offer to the students that will determine our future. Philosophy is a discipline that despite its reputation is in fact very practical. It teaches students how to think critically and express themselves clearly in writing and in speech. As an article in the New York Times has recently noted, these are precisely the skills that lead to success in the workplace over the long-term. We will defend the value of philosophy as a liberal art and as part of the foundation of any kind of education, even one that is practically oriented.

Second, we need constantly to promote ourselves within the university and in the wider community. Many of our faculty excel at speaking on themes of public interest to a wide audience. We also need to keep up-to-date on technology both within and outside the classroom. To that end, we will work on redesigning our website this year. People need to see all the great things that we do and these days the Internet is essential to achieve that goal.

Last, but certainly not least, we need to continue our efforts at fund-raising. Without the amazing efforts of the Advisory Committee, we would have not been able to travel or to stage the events that we did in the past few years. Without them, we would not be able to offer summer support to our graduate students or scholarships to our undergraduates. The state has said that it is the duty of the private sector to finance the public university and we need to heed that message. We will continue to work to expand our fund-raising efforts in every way possible. We can express our gratitude to donors not only with words, but more importantly with acts of learning and scholarship that will make everyone proud.

Ken Clatterbaugh has led the department over the last fifteen years through many challenges. I have already learned a lot from him about how to enjoy the good times and also how to navigate through difficult times as well. I am sure that I will learn more from him even after he returns to teaching. The department is thriving and that in no small way is due to him. I encourage you to get involved so that we can celebrate his achievements over the next year. You will hear more in the near future about the events we are planning to honor Ken.

We need your support now more than ever. I encourage you to visit the department. Come see the interesting art work on the walls in the office or in the Riswold Seminar Room. If you are retired, sign up for a course through the Access program. If you happen to have a Friday afternoon free, come by to listen to a colloquium. Pick up one of our books or articles and see what faculty members are writing about. Talk to our Outreach Coordinator, Kate Goldyn, about how you can help our department through a gift. My goal is to leave this department in at least as good as shape as I've found it. With your help we might even make it better. We have a lot to do in the coming years. I look forward to working with all of you.

Professor Michael Rosenthal, Chair

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