Historical echoes, part 5

Wed 08 Jul 2009 11:02 AM

This is the penultimate part of William Leue's history of the UAlbany Philosophy Department. For context, see part I, part II, part III, and part IV.

This chapter is mostly about Bill Reese, who was still around as a professor emeritus when I came to Albany in 2004. He had the large office next to the department seminar room, which I inherited into a couple of years later.

This installment is from Phib v 1 (1972-1973), n 22, pp 86-88.


After a considerable effort, much writing of letters, and interviews with a number of candidates who came to our campus for a mutual looking-over process, the search committee, the Dean for Humanities, who was then Ed Shaw, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who was then Bill Perlmutter, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, who was then - let's see, was it still Webb Fiser?, the President, who definitely still was Van Collins, and, of course, the final candidate himself had a role in and agreed on the choice of whom we wanted as Chairman of our rapidly expanding Department of Philosophy. Bill Reese accepted the offer under the condition that he be permitted to complete his sabbatical project in South America, where he was engaged in both research and cultural liaison projects under the sponsorship of the ford foundation and the U. S. State Department.

Bill had published in such areas as metaphysics and the philosophy of religion, Philosophers Speak of God, and had made a notable contribution to the introductory teaching of philosophy the Ascent from Below. He was Chairman of the Philosophy Department at the University of Delaware and while there he had organized a very successful interdisciplinary program in the philosophy of science, which he later edited and published as the three volumes of The Philosophy of Science Delaware Seminar (the first of two by Wiley International and the third by Springer Verlag).

Bill was interested in the opportunity which in our situation, as a rapidly expanding university center which might be open to innovative programs cutting across traditional lines of organization, seemed to offer for new programs in philosophy and for new ventures in interdisciplinary cooperation.

He felt that, although there were limited opportunities in philosophy for students devoting themselves exclusively to the core areas, there was greater need than ever before to stress the integrating and differentiating functions which philosophy can help to promote for the rest of human knowledge. He also wanted to explore fresh approaches at all levels of higher education and therefore promoted such projects as independent study for undergraduate and innovative introductory courses in philosophy.

Our own motivations in asking Bill Reese to lead our department were of course multiple and diverse, but two recurrent themes are prominent in my own memory. First, we felt that we were working under a directive that called us to expand graduate program into new areas and up to the doctoral level, a prospect that evoked many doubts and misgivings in some of us, and we needed someone with the energy, enthusiasm, and executive ability to tackle such a large enterprise. On the other hand, some of us greatly feared the impersonalism and re-ordering of human priorities that such a commitment often seemed to involve. In Bill we felt that we found a person who could somehow combine those emphases - on professional excellence and high level performance and on humane consideration for rather non-aggressive and sometimes overly sensitive people. We wanted him to bring off successful synthesis of these two apparently incompatible themes.

If Bill's and our own efforts in both of these directions have sometimes seemed to be frustrated, there are of course overwhelming outside factors which soon made their presence felt, but I guess that I'll need still another episode of this saga to discuss these. To the extent of that, nevertheless, we have been responsible for our own fate, I think that I can argue that we have really done quite well, and, if we have fallen short in some ways, there is more then enough responsibility to go around. More than likely we were giving Bill contrary cues and making incompatible demands on him; and we were asking him to put together tendencies which none of the rest of us could put together and which many of us pushed in utter disregard of our own internal inconsistency, sometimes leaning one way and sometimes the other, and blaming Bill for stressing at each moment the opposite tendency.

We started off the new regime with at least a moderate bang. The complex process of designing and putting through a doctoral program was immediately set in motion, and our proposal passed all the hurdles and was approved within a year and a half. It became operative in the fall of 1970. Some of us felt that it was unfortunate that several of its more innovative features, such a organized research and teaching internships, had to be greatly watered-down or abandoned before it could gain University approval.

Our staff enlarged considerably in the first year and a half after Reese took over. Jim Thomas and Terry Bynum joined us in the fall of 68; and Marty Deitsch, in the spring of 69. Joe Gould and Bob Fullinwider came in the fall of 69. Also Mike Iloward, Ken Stern and Henning Meyn joined us in the fall of 70. Lloyd Eby was more briefly associated with our department- February, 69 till June , 70. a very helpful member of our group has been Helen Somich, our chief departmental secretary, who has been with us since December of 1968.

Work was also under way to secure grants and organize special programs such as the program in Philosophy and the Humanities, which we launched in the fall of 1970. Smaller and more intermittent programs have been pursued in philosophy and the social science and philosophy and the natural science.

Bill Reese has experimented with the introductory course in philosophy, trying for a while a select tutorial group plan, and, with major responsibility being taken from Terry Byrum, starting the large lecture hall, multi-media assisted "experimental" introductory course in philosophy, which has attracted considerable attention even beyond our campus and which has evoked a good deal of discussion of educational techniques and goals within the department and elsewhere.

In cooperation with Terry Bynum, Bill Reese started a major new journal, Metaphilosophy, which is associated with our department, and Bill has been active as an editorial consultant in philosophy for the SUNY press. He has also been an active participant in many university committees and policy-making bodies.

(At least one more installment to come.)