Letter from the Chair

Submitted by Kate Goldyn on
Andrea Woody

Dear Friends of UW Philosophy,

I send greetings for a Happy New Year from the Department of Philosophy, along with the sincere hope that you and all your loved ones are safe and well. It has now been ten long months since the university transitioned to remote teaching and learning. During this time, I am so grateful for the resilience of everyone in our community. Faculty members in this department have rallied around our communal teaching mission to develop courses on Zoom (the university’s video conferencing platform) that engage and inspire our students, who are now scattered across the globe. They have taught courses with infants on their laps; they have lectured in closets to avoid noise in other parts of their households; and they have dutifully requested permission each time they need a book from their office on campus. Our students have faced similar challenges, all while trying to keep their educations on track. Undergraduates fight against Zoom fatigue and try to balance the tensions of isolation while living in circumstances that provide too little privacy. Our doctoral students push for progress on research papers while often being the first-responders for undergraduates in distress. We are all tired.

Still, in the midst of all these challenges, resilience blossoms.  Though the format has changed, the department has maintained all scheduled courses, and in several instances increased capacity to accommodate every interested student. Without the constraints of classroom space, we have more than 400 students enrolled for our Introduction to Logic course this term. In the fall, Professor Colin Marshall launched an innovative new course “Persuasion or Manipulation: The Ethics and Psychology of Influence”, which asks students to grapple with the differences between respectful persuasion and manipulation while giving them hands-on tools for arguing effectively for issues and ideas that matter most to them. Professor Conor Mayo-Wilson partnered with colleagues in Statistics and Math on a course devoted to voting theory, allowing students to understand the variety of voting systems that are options for democratic decision-making, and the consequences of such choices (e.g. the Electoral College). The Center for Philosophy for Children has offered a series of online sessions, providing a space for children to explore topics central to their experiences of the pandemic: being alone, resilience, courage, family.

We were thrilled that Teaching Professor Ian Schnee was invited to be the Convocation speaker for the UW incoming class in September, bringing words of inspiration and advice to those brave new Huskies embarking on college careers under such unique, and uncertain, circumstances. Carrying the banner for the department’s teaching mission, Schnee was awarded the 2020 UW Distinguished Teaching Award last spring. His pedagogical skills, including innovative use of technology, are well known across campus as a leader in the UW Evidence-Based Teaching Program.

In the Pacific Northwest, the first signs of spring arrive often before we notice; the message of rejuvenation is always close at hand as the new year arrives.  Likewise, even as the pandemic continues to alter department life radically, we celebrate with unbridled enthusiasm the arrival of three new faculty members: José Mendoza, Aaron Novick, and Amelia Wirts. I encourage you to read the short articles about each of them on our website. These new Assistant Professors bring exciting research to the department, tackling a host of issues involving immigration, racial inequity, modern incarceration, and conceptual challenges in biological science.  They will broaden our curriculum to include new courses in Chinese and Latin American philosophy, substantially increasing the range of philosophical traditions available to our students. Just as importantly, they will join their new colleagues to shape the future of our department as we continue the hard work to become more vibrant, inclusive, and equitable.

Challenging times underscore the value of philosophical skills and display the relevance of our ongoing work. Just as the country responded last spring to ongoing occurrences of racial injustice, Carole Lee’s interdisciplinary research exploring racial disparities in grant funding gained traction with a letter published in The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious medical journals. Colin Marshall gave advice regarding how to approach individuals who refuse to wear a mask. José Mendoza joined philosophers across the country to discuss the 2020 election at The Daily Nous, exploring in particular the Latinx vote. In The Conversation, Michael Blake has wrestled with the complexities of presidential politics, contributing public articles that explore Presidential lies and more recently, the case for impeachment. This public scholarship sits side by side with his academic research: Blake’s latest book, Justice, Migration, and Mercy, was just named one of the best of 2020 by Oxford University Press.

And our focus has not been exclusively outward. The department’s Climate and Inclusion committee obtained grant funding for a set of workshops exploring issues of equity in our classrooms, especially as these issues became apparent in the context of remote teaching and learning last spring. Those workshops will help the department take concrete steps to improve the learning environment for all our students. 

As you can see, a year filled with challenge also brings hope and new possibilities. We invite you to find ways to connect with Philosophy in the days ahead, starting with the Annual Ethics Lecture on January 29. This year’s lecture, “Social Injustice and Covid-19 Vaccines,” delivered by Professor Ruth Faden, founder of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, could not be more timely.

From all of us in the Department of Philosophy, thank you for your continued support and take good care.

Best wishes,
Andrea Woody
Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy