Historical echoes, part 2

Sat 25 Apr 2009 08:48 PM

This is the second part of William Leue's history of the UAlbany Philosophy Department. For context, see part I.

This installment is from Phib v 1 (1972-1973), n 13, pp 55-6.


Late in February of 1961 I took the Santa Fe from deep in the entrails of Texas up to Chicago in order to be interviewed by Van Collins, who was attending a national meeting there. I had been in correspondence with Bob Creegan for several months, but the college was still small and paternalistic in those days, and no decision about faculty appointments could be made without the personal approval of the president, and he took his job very seriously. Van left a very deep personal mark upon this institution, probably most of it for the good, however unhappy some of us may be with the traditions of paternalism. Perhaps more recent contact with other ways of doing things, harder to understand or even name, has given some of us second thoughts about having to deal with flesh-and-blood father figures.

Anyway, when I talked to Van, change was already in the air back in Albany. He told me that as a boy growing up in the Boston area he had been fascinated by the hill climbing motorcycle races held on the steep sides of the Waltham hills and had noted how they would, before moving off their stands, rev up their motors to build up potential power for the climb. Van said that the college had been building up its potential for quite some time, that he had been deliberately holding it back, by such measures as discouraging expansion projects (such as a new library) at or adjacent to the old campus, and that now the College was at last ready to go and couldn't be held back any longer.

Philosophy as an autonomous discipline, recognized by course titles and a section in the catalogue, had started here some nine years earlier, though there had been courses in the "philosophy of education" and other courses with at least some philosophical content or approach taught here for a much longer time.

Bob Creegan had known Van Collins when both of them were teaching at the University of Ohio at Athens. Van had been dean of the School of Education there before coming here as President. Bob taught a course in the philosophy of education here during the summer session of 1951, and came here in the fall of 52 to establish the roots of what soon became the Department of Philosophy. Four courses in philosophy were introduced during his first year here: Introduction, Logic, a one semester history course, and Contemporary Philosophy. Comparative Religion was added in 1954, and the Philosophy of Science, in 55.

In the latter year Bob Creegan also became chairman of the Department of Psychology, and for a few years the two departments were related more closely than seems understandable today. Bob also served as coordinator of the Interdepartmental Humanities Course, which was later offered under the direction of the Department of Comparative Literature.

As enrollment increased in philosophy courses, the point was finally reached where Bob needed help. Many of us, who have never been in the position of being a "one-man-band," would find his regular teaching load truly incredible. Arnolds Grava, who is still a member of the Department of Romance Languages here, taught Comparative Religion for a while. The first full-time addition to the philosophy staff was Albert Glathe, who came here from California in the fall of 58, and went back to U.C.L.A. when he left here in 61.

With the appointments of Bill Grimes and of me in the fall of 1961, we became a three-man department, and from then on through the sixties growth took on an exponential character.

But so has this narrative, I originally thought that a page would do it for the whole thing, then at the end of the first installment I realized that I needed a sequel. Now I see that it will take at least one more portion to complete this tale.

W.H.L. [William Leue] in consultation with R.F.C. [Robert Creegan]