Chair’s Letter to Alumni on July 26, 2006

July 26, 2006

Dear friends,

I write to you with an update about developments in the Philosophy Department at Boston University. We had a busy, and productive, year. Over 1,500 students were enrolled in philosophy courses during the Spring 2006 semester, and there were 219 declared majors and 36 minors.

Let me start with the end: Commencement. The Department’s Undergraduate Commencement ceremonies went very well, in spite of heavy rain, and thanks in great part to the splendid efforts of the Department’s staff, Kristina Nies and Karen Adams. Tian Yu Cao and Jennifer Sichel delivered the faculty and student addresses respectively (both are posted here). I served as master of ceremonies, Aaron Garrett read the names of graduating students, and David Roochnik helped hand out the degrees. Professors Hopp, Kestenbaum, and Kuehn were also in attendance. The reception in the SMG atrium following the ceremony was lively. We awarded 58 undergraduate degrees this year.

For the first time, a gift was presented to each and every graduating student (those unable to attend Commencement were asked to pick up their copy in the Department): a copy of the handsome hardback edition of Hume’s Essays Moral, Political, and Literary. I inscribed each volume with the student’s name and a message of congratulation. This gift was made possible by Steve Karbank (class of ‘79; for information about Steve, see The Karbank Challenge). It is hoped that this will become a yearly event.

Prizes were awarded at commencement on May 14, 2006 to the following students:

* Grant Engel – The Peter M. Nelson Memorial Award for distinguished Work by a Junior
* Melissa Vise – The Matchette Prize for excellence in Philosophy
* Shannon White – Robert S. Cohen award in Interdisciplinary Studies
* Annie Turner – The John N. Findlay Award
* Frederick Nitsch and Christopher Payne – The Peter A. Bertocci award for Philosophical Excellence
* Jennifer Sichel – The College Prize for excellence in Philosophy

In addition, Frederick Nitsch won the Alumni Association Awards for Writing Excellence – Humanities Division and Elay Shech won the Humanities Foundation Award

The accomplishments of our majors and minors were many. Let me mention that four seniors—Frederick W. Nitsch, Christopher M. Payne, Erik A. Richardson, and Shannon M. White—completed Work for Distinction projects; and that five of our graduating seniors were elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa (Frederick Nitsch, Christopher Payne, Annie Turner, Melissa Vise and Shannon White). I also note that three of our concentrators were invited to give presentations at conferences, and were supported by the department. They were:

* Julie Ackerman, North Georgia Student Philosophy Conference, March 30-February 2,
“Schopenhauer’s Idealism and the Buddhist Doctrine of Two Truths”

* Patrick Cox, North Georgia Student Philosophy Conference, March 30-February 2,
“The Role of Each Moral Activity Presented by Murdoch in a More Definitive Moral Philosophy”

* Ariella Gogol, Mid-South Undergraduate Philosophy Conference in Memphis, TN, February
23-26, “Philosophy and Human Nature”

The Undergraduate Philosophy Association pursued an ambitious agenda, thanks in part to the enthusiastic leadership of Elay Shech as President, Nicole Norman as Vice President, Ted Stinson as Treasurer, and Shannon White as Secretary). It organized—in addition to an evening conversation with Professor David Roochnik which was attended by about 50 people—two senior thesis presentations (by Shannon White on the “Ethics of Genetic Engineering,” and by Erik Richardson on “Kierkegaard and Death”) and discussions. It also formed plans for activities in the coming academic year, which include three faculty presentations (by Professors Keller, Hopp and, perhaps Oxenberg), weekly informal philosophy discussions, and launching a journal – Arche — which will (it is hoped) be published once each semester. The Philosophy Film Club, which is organized and maintained by a philosophy graduate student (Shai Biderman), met continuously throughout the year. Attendance was excellent by both graduate and undergraduate students.

One of the happy events of the year was the creation of meeting and study space for undergraduate majors and minors in the heart of the department (STH 536A). Furnished with comfortable seating and a new computer connected to the ethernet, it slowly became a work and meeting place for our students. We hope many more will use it in the years ahead.

Some information about the destinations of several of this year’s graduates:

* Melissa Caunt will be entering the MA program at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

* Jared Miller will enter the PhD program in Philosophy at Emory.

* Sarah E. Lane was accepted to the Mater of Public Health (MPH) program at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, entering fall 2006.

* Andrew Perkins is enrolled in the Masters in the Arts of Teaching Program at Boston University and will begin attending classes this summer, hoping to teach epistemology, philosophy and history under the International Baccalaureate Program Secondary Education.

* Jennifer Sichel was accepted (with full Fellowship support) in the MA program in Fine Arts at Williams College.

* Harbir Singh will be attending Penn State University’s Hershey Medical Campus to obtain the MD, and concurrently will be commencing a part-time three-year graduate level leadership and educational program in Humanist philosophy sponsored by The Humanist Institute (, with scholarship support.

* Alejandro Strong will go to the MA program in philosophy at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, starting September 2006.

* Annie Turner, a joint concentrator in philosophy and English, was accepted into Columbia Law School J.D. Program, entering fall 2006.

* Melissa Vise was offered a summer research Fellowship at the University of Notre Dame. Prior to beginning the Master of Theological Studies Program in the fall on full funding, she will also be taking a month to attend the University of Vienna’s International summer Program in German Language and Modern European Studies in the Salzkammergut.

* Clifford Whitehead will go to Indiana University Law School in Indianapolis.

The Graduate Student Commencement was also busy and well attended. The PhD degree was awarded to Bret Doyle, Barry Gilbert, Khalil Habib, Montgomery Link, Edward Richards, Mary Troxell, and James Wood. In May of 2005, Nir Eisikovits and Charles Lowney were awarded the PhD, and January 2005 PhD degrees were conferred upon Maria Granik, Mirja Hartimo, Mark Nyvlt, and David Shikiar. MA degrees were awarded, this year and last, to Matthew Schoolfield, Robert France, and Steve Kim.

We have completed our compilation of placement data of PhD graduates of the program from the last 15 years and will be posting it over the summer on the Web. An initial analysis of that data suggests that the Department has a good deal to be proud of in terms of its overall placement record: of 82 Ph.D.’s, 70 have found positions in teaching or academic administration, 18 of those in tenured university or college positions, 28 in tenure track positions at colleges or universities, and 22 in instructorships or other university adjunct positions.

The Department’s already strong placement efforts will be furthered this coming year by a new two semester placement seminar, required of every student going on the market. The seminar will count as one of the Placement Director’s courses. The graduate curriculum is under review once again: the comprehensive examination structure will be replaced by some other form of assessment; a new seminar for all and only first year students will be instituted; the foreign language requirements emended; and official encouragement for graduate students to attend colloquia reaffirmed.

The list of recent professional achievements by current graduate students is pages long—these include invited talks and commentaries; Fellowships, grants, and honors; and publications. Because of its length, I will not reproduce it here. Some of these achievements are mentioned on our website, and more will appear as we update the relevant pages. Allow me to mention just three achievements in a distinguished list:

* Timothy Brownlee won the Humanities Foundation Award 2006, and also “Second Prize for a Graduate Student Essay in English” for his paper delivered at the Canadian Philosophical Association’s Annual Congress at York University, Toronto, June 1, 2006 entitled “Hegel’s Concept of Moral Evil” (this is an annual award, and the highest award for graduate students in Canada).

* Iskra Fileva was winner of a Graduate Student Stipend awarded by the American Philosophical Association (Eastern Division), Dec. 2005, for travel to the APA to present “The Neutrality of Rightness and the Indexicality of Goodness: Beyond Objectivity and Back Again.”

* Jamie Kelly won the Humanities Foundation Award 2006

* Matthew Meyer was winner of a Graduate Student Stipend awarded by the American Philosophical Association (Central Division), April 2004, for travel to the APA to present “The Unity of Opposites and Nietzsche’s Tragic Philosophy.”

Funding for graduate students has never been better (though we would like for it to improve further). All students have at least four years of full funding; many have a fifth. The Earhart Foundation is currently awarding six Fellowships a year to our students (on the recommendation of Professors Griswold and Rosen); the Center for Philosophy and History of Science awards a graduate Fellowship; and summer funding is now awarded, upon application, by the Department.

The Philosophy Graduate Student Organization was ably and energetically headed by Gal Kober and Hege Finholt. The list of its activities too is so rich as to be impractical to reproduce here (again, our website will soon reflect it). The level of intellectual interaction among the graduate students is extraordinary.

We were very pleased to finalize the creation of meeting and study space for graduate students.

Several newly renovated rooms in the department are set aside for Teaching Fellows and graduate students, making a major contribution to the quality of education at both graduate and undergraduate students. In addition, difficulties in the use of Mugar library carrels were solved.

Thanks to the financial support of several donors (in particular, Stephen Halliwell and Steve Karbank) and the College, the Department was able to renovate its colloquium and seminar room (STH 525), as well as to create a very attractive new library (the new Matchette library). Many of our seminars are held in these rooms, leading to increased interaction among faculty, students, and between the two groups. We are also able, for the first time, to hold receptions following a colloquium (indeed, we are able to hold a colloquium on our floor without a battle to reserve space!). Next time you’re on campus, wander up to the fifth floor and check out these new facilities.


As to the faculty: Walter Hopp and Peter Bokulich joined the Department as Assistant Professors (the latter’s appointment is split with the Writing Program and the Center for Philosophy and History of Science). Aaron Garret and Allen Speight were promoted from Assistant to Associate Professor, with tenure. David Roochnik was promoted to Full Professor at the start of the academic year, and Juliet Floyd was promoted to Full Professor effective Sept. 1, 2006. Edwin Delattre was promoted to Professor Emeritus, effective Sept. 6, 2006; we will be very sorry to see Ed retire from the faculty!

Our John Findlay Visiting Professor during Fall 2005 was Alan White (Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University). He is Mark Hopkins Professor of Philosophy at Williams College. His areas include Hegel, Schelling, Nietzsche, and the intersection of “continental” and “analytic” philosophy. The Findlay Visiting Professor during Fall 2006 is Anat Biletski (Ph.D. Tel Aviv University); she normally teaches philosophy at Tel Aviv University. Her areas include Wittgenstein, Hobbes, human rights, philosophy of language, philosophy of religion. She was also a Fellow of the Center for Philosophy and History of Science during the Spring 2006 semester. Susan James (University of London) accepted our offer as Findlay Visiting Professor for Fall 2008.

It is with great sadness that we received the news of Lee Rouner’s death, our colleague and friend of over three decades (please see A Memorial Service was held at Marsh Chapel in February, and plans are afoot to remember Lee with an endowment for the Institute for Philosophy and Religion, which he ran for some three decades.

Abner Shimony was honored by the creation of a fund in his name, endowed by gifts from several former students. The Abner Shimony Prize Fund will provide for an award to the best graduate student paper in the philosophy of science or environmental philosophy. The first award went to MA student Lori Pohl, for “Having it Both Ways: Can Science be Both Interested and Disinterested and Still be Science?” The Fund, whose principal currently stands at $13,000, seeks to triple its size; contributions of any size are very welcome indeed.

The number and quality of books, articles, Fellowships, prizes, honors, speaking invitations, and other professional activities (including manuscript refereeing) produced or conducted by the faculty of this Department is astonishing. Once again, it is impossible to list them all here. I do want to mention that Professor Jaakko Hintikka received the Rolf Schock prize in logic and philosophy in 2005; this is often thought of as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in philosophy (and is also given by the Royal Swedish Academy). In addition, a nearly 1,000 page book of essays devoted to his thought, with his replies to distinguished critics, was published by the Library of Living Philosophers (Open Court). The roster of persons to whom those volumes have been devoted range from Albert Einstein to Donald Davidson. Three philosophy colleagues (Floyd, Garrett, Webb) contributed to the volume.

We conducted an international search, open rank and open area, to fill a faculty position, and made a senior offer to Sharon Lloyd (University of Southern California). Regrettably, due to personal reasons, she was unable to accept. We expect to search again during the coming academic year.

Other departmental activities included the fourth Karbank Symposium in Environmental Philosophy. Under the leadership of Simon Keller, and with the support of both the Department and the Boston University Humanities Foundation, the new Friday Ethics Group met several times a month to discuss work in ethics (some unpublished, some not). In several cases, the author was able to join the group. The meetings were well attended by faculty and graduate students. Under the leadership of Aaron Garrett, Director of Graduate Studies, frequent get-togethers were held, with faculty and graduate students invited. These were much appreciated by all those attending as providing occasions for interaction. The Department held several receptions for students and faculty as well.

The list of other Colloquia, Symposiums & Conferences hosted by the Philosophy Department is extensive. Let me mention three:

* May 5-7, 2006 – The 40th Annual North American Heidegger Conference
* April 28-29, 2006 – The 3rd Annual Meetings of the Eastern Study Group of the North American Kant Society
* March 30, 2006 – Karbank Symposium in Environmental Philosophy

In addition, we continued to participate in the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy. The Institute for Philosophy and Religion had another excellent, and vigorous, year. Its topic was “evil.” Under the leadership of Fred Tauber, the Center for Philosophy and History of Science conducted its renowned Colloquium, and also supported both a Visiting Professor program and a Fellowship for graduate students. The Center benefited from very substantial funding by a donor. The Department’s Friday Colloquia also enriched our program of in-house and visiting speakers. These colloquia provide to our students a tremendous opportunity for philosophical education.


This was in many ways a year of self-examination for the Department. We invested a large amount of time and effort this year in reviewing all aspects of our operations and culture. The results were, in part, documented in a lengthy Self-study Report submitted to the Dean in the Spring semester. No doubt the coming year will bring more of the same.

Several things though will not change, including the Department’s commitment to both excellent teaching and to preparing excellent teachers; to “pluralism,” understood as the representation of various (often competing) ways and methods of approaching our discipline; and to an end-of-the-day focus on the “big questions” of philosophy—those Socratic questions that drew us into philosophy in the first place!

Please keep up with the department by consulting our website, which will undergo a face lift and re-organization this summer.

In order to continue growing, we do need much greater financial support, internal and external, for better funded and competitive graduate and undergraduate student stipends; summer funding; and endowed student Fellowships and faculty Chairs. The Karbank Challenge has been a boon to the Department, and remains open. We are hopeful that friends of the Department will continue to offer us their support, as well as counsel, as we move forward.

Have a wonderful summer, and keep in touch!

Very best wishes,

Charles Griswold
Philosophy Department Chair
Boston University