Chair’s Letter to Alumni on November 25, 2003

November 25, 2003

Dear Philosophy Graduate:

I write today to share with you exciting news about Boston University’s Philosophy Department. It is a privilege to count you among our alumni, and one of my priorities as chairman is to communicate with you more effectively about our accomplishments, our plans for growth, and the vibrant intellectual community we’re building. In turn, I invite you to communicate with us by telling the Department where you are and how best to reach you (see below).

First and foremost, I want you to know that the Department is thriving. Last year, we had 234 majors and 50 minors, and each semester more than 1,500 undergraduates enroll in our courses. On the graduate level, we have had an unusually high number of applicants for seats in this fall’s program—a total of 228, from which we accepted nine doctoral students and one Masters student. Our graduates at both levels go on to admirable careers. Those impressive numbers stand as testimony to our faculty’s stature, both in and out of the classroom. Teaching remains a top priority for the Department. At the same time, in the last decade we have hired a number of extraordinarily productive faculty who continue the Department’s tradition of excellence in research. That excellence rebounds to the benefit of the teaching program. The number and quality of publications produced by the philosophy faculty here is phenomenal.

Indeed, our faculty routinely garners awards and distinctions. Two of my colleagues were honored last year with awards that deserve particular mention. Alisa Bokulich received a coveted National Science Foundation Scholars Award, which will support her research for a new book on the philosophy of physics. And Juliet Floyd was awarded fellowships by four prestigious grantors: the American Philosophical Society, the Stanford Humanities Center, the Fulbright Commission, and the American Academy in Berlin. She intends to complete a book on the philosophy of logic and mathematics.

While proud of the accomplishments of our recently arrived as well as longer term colleagues, we have also felt, in recent years, the loss of several faculty to retirement. You may well recall them: Bob Cohen (who retains his office on the hallway, and participates regularly in the Department’s colloquia); Bernard Elevitch (who lives in Boston, and visits the Department from time to time); Erazim Kohak (who returned to his native Prague, where he teaches and writes prolifically); and Abner Shimony (also in the area, and involved in activities at B.U.). This year, Lee Rouner insisted on his long-postponed (and by the rest of us, long-dreaded!) retirement after thirty-four wonderful years on the faculty. He delivered a stirring farewell address at the Department’s Commencement exercises in May. We will miss him very much indeed, though we’re gratified that the Institute for Philosophy and Religion will continue under the stewardship of Professor of Religion David Eckel, just as the Center for Philosophy and History of Science has continued under the guidance of Professor Fred Tauber. The colloquia series of both the Institute and Center will remain a vibrant center for student and faculty discussion.

Would you be interested in being in touch with any of your former (or the current) faculty? If so, you will find their email address (where one exists) on the Department’s web site, www.bu.edu/philo, located under “Faculty”. You are warmly invited to page through the site; it contains extensive information about what we’ve been up to since you graduated.

You will see, for example, that we have hired outstanding faculty not only to replace those who have retired, but also to add to the Department’s strengths. Among the new positions in the Department is the John N. Findlay Visiting Professorship. This year we welcome distinguished philosopher Philip J. Ivanhoe, who joins us as Findlay Visiting Professor. He is an expert in Asian philosophy as well as Western ethics—one of the very few philosophers trained to work in both areas. The Department’s tradition of taking very different ways of approaching the discipline seriously continues.

Our international connections run deep. Many of our colleagues write about one or another aspect of European philosophy, and we are affiliated with an immensely successful institute run by one of our colleagues, Krzysztof Michalski. The Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (located in a beautiful building in central Vienna) continues to provide an extraordinary opportunity for our students. Fellowships are offered on a competitive basis, and are funded by the Institute and Boston University. We typically send several students to study in Vienna every semester. The Institute runs an exciting series of seminars (mostly on social and political philosophy) during the year and summer, and hosts a number of visiting faculty.

As the number of our majors and minors indicate, interest in philosophy among Boston University students is high. The Undergraduate Philosophy Association continues its active schedule of meetings, public debates, and discussion. One year, the Undergraduate Philosophy Association organized an interdisciplinary meeting focused on the nature of language. Another year, they hosted a lively debate on the question of the existence of God. The Undergraduate Philosophy Association is an intrinsic part of the Department, and regularly invites faculty to offer short presentations about their work or to discuss philosophical issues.

Each year at graduation, the Department recognizes outstanding work by undergraduate students by means of a number of awards, including the Peter Nelson Memorial Award for Distinguished Work by a Junior; the Matchette Prize for Excellence in Philosophy; the John N. Findlay Award; the Robert S. Cohen Award in Interdisciplinary Studies; and two Peter Bertocci Awards, one for Academic Achievement and Humanitarian Service, and the other for Philosophical Excellence. You will find the recipients of these awards listed on our website.

The establishment of the Karbank Challenge this fall is one of our most exciting recent developments, and promises long-term support for our students and the continuing growth of the Department. It is a funding initiative instituted by Steven Karbank, who graduated from Boston University in 1979 with a double major in philosophy and psychology. In recognition of the lasting impact that his education has had on his life, Steve has committed up to $100,000 over the course of the next five years as a challenge gift to encourage others to support the Department of Philosophy. Under the terms of the Karbank Challenge, each gift of $1,000 or more made to the Department will be matched on a dollar for dollar basis, up to a total of $100,000.

Boston University’s Philosophy Department has always bucked the trend in academic philosophy. We have resisted the move to narrow specialization and an overly technical approach to philosophy. We have also resisted the opposed extremes of merely historical investigations on the one hand, and insufficiently rigorous broad-sweep speculations about the human condition on the other. Our model remains Socratic: philosophy is about leading a good life, and in order to accomplish that aim, we must reflect, with all the clarity and rigor at our disposal, on the deep and abiding issues of human life. It is our conviction that philosophical reflection is best pursued through conversation, including with philosophers of the past. For that reason among others, a study of the history of philosophy is essential. We invite you to join in the conversation with any of the faculty of the Department.

I hope that you find this report on recent happenings in your Department at Boston University useful. I trust that we will remain in touch (please use the following address if you wish to email your questions, thoughts, and experiences to me: casphilo@bu.edu). You may, of course, write any of the faculty at the Department address. As noted, you will find their email addresses on our website.

I would like very much to have your current email addresses, so that we may more easily reach you concerning notable happenings here (I promise not to flood your in-box with philosophy spam mail!). Would you update your contact information by sending an email to casalum@bu.edu? Please include your name and year of graduation, and indicate whether the email address that you are supplying will reach you at home or at your business. Thank you.

Yours cordially,

Charles Griswold
Professor and Chairman