After a cool, rainy spring, it seems that summer weather may have finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest. Our department still resonates with the sound of celebration as we gathered in-person for the first time in three years to celebrate our students in our annual Department Awards Ceremony and Graduation Reception. Even standing mask to mask, it was easy to discern the hidden smiles and be invigorated by being together. It has been another year full of transitions, as the university returned to campus and worked hard to dodge multiple waves of coronavirus variants, requiring students and faculty alike to shift between physical and Zoom classrooms, always with a steady supply of masks.
It has also been a time of transition for me personally. In July, I assume the position of Divisional Dean of Social Sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences. I have worked in this department for 24 years, the past six as chair. As of December, I am the longest serving member of the department, the first woman to be tenured, and the first women to serve as chair. In every possible way, this has been my professional home; it is hard for me to imagine being anywhere else.
My time as chair has been impacted by national and global events in ways that I could not have anticipated. Within months of assuming the position, Donald Trump was elected President. In the immediate period after the election, our typically idyllic campus experienced protests, widespread vandalism, and even violence. In 2020, we were the first campus to shift to remote operation as the pandemic descended. Our 2020 graduation ceremony, precariously planned on Zoom, was shifted at the last minute to accommodate Seattle protests for the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement after the murder of George Floyd. In a late-night email message, one undergraduate gave voice to the concerns of many, expressing gratitude and relief that her commitment to social justice and her desire to celebrate graduation and honor her family’s support were no longer in conflict. The war in Ukraine and momentous decisions from the Supreme Court indicate additional challenges in the days to come.
Through these disruptions, the department has continued its tradition of excellent education, and in part because of these events, has evolved into an academic community more actively engaged with the world around us. Our department currently produces one of the largest cohorts of undergraduate philosophy majors of any university in the country, and the highest number of majors per faculty member. Our students are resilient and creative, and their career paths demonstrate in tangible ways the value of a philosophical education.
During the pandemic, our PhD students, who are essential to our undergraduate mission, have endured the double-whammy of being instructors and students simultaneously. My admiration for their hard work, expertise, and tenacity continues to grow. Even under these conditions, people have made tremendous intellectual progress (9 PhDs since 2020) and launched impressive careers. And in ways large and small, they have continued to push the department to become the most intellectually rich and equitable community we can be.
Here at the end of my time as chair, I save my deepest thanks for the faculty and staff, who have worked collectively with me. We have celebrated promotions and retirements. We have welcomed new colleagues (and new children) with excitement and mourned the passing of emeritus faculty. We have strategized around shortages, and tried to envision the best version of the department. The past two years have been especially stressful in the face of health challenges, caregiver responsibilities, new teaching modalities, and roadblocks to research. Thank you for trusting me as chair and for working alongside me to ensure that trust would not be broken. I hope I have left the department a better place, but it was pretty terrific when I started.
Professor Sara Goering will pick up the reins as interim chair. Sara is immensely capable, deeply empathetic, and visionary. We are fortunate she has agreed even as her own research in neuroethics expands rapidly. I will miss seeing my colleagues on a daily basis, but my new office is a stone’s throw from Savery Hall and the department will remain ever present in my mind. I look forward to discovering additional ways to support Philosophy, alongside all the Social Sciences, in my new role.