RWU Magazine - Fall 2013 / Issue #9 - page 12

RWU {Fall 2013}
On the Waterfront
Robert Blackburn
Professor of Philosophy
Feinstein College of
Arts & Sciences
B.A./A.M. Brown University
2013 Excellence in
Teaching Award
faculty member
, he’s in it for the long haul. As
professor of philosophy at RWU, he has served on the faculty for 45 years; he
continues to coach youth baseball in Cranston, R.I., though his children have
long outgrown the league; and he has played intramural hockey at Brown
University every year since he was an undergraduate there. From the ball field to
the blackboard, the keys to success are simple, Blackburn says: be a good
teammate and a supportive citizen, accept differences and always ask questions.
Here are ours:
is there a trick to making it through a Bob Blackburn course?
The first rule of my classroom is you have to ask questions. I will entertain a question at any time.
The art of asking questions is a sign of intelligence. “Ignorant” is not a bad word – it just means you
don’t know.
Do you have a teaching philosophy?
You have to be able to understand what a student needs – and everyone needs something different.
How have students changed since you began teaching in 1968?
The mindset of the liberal arts students then wasn’t “what will get me a job?” They were more
wrapped up in “what’s happening in my world?” Taking courses in literature, philosophy and the
humanities made students think about the human condition, about what it will take to survive in
this world. I felt the same way. I was a draft counselor and I remember, the morning after the lottery,
I saw a student wandering the hallway in CAS. He looked devastated, and when I asked him what
was wrong he said, “I got number one.” He knew he was gone. One day you’re taking classes at Roger
Williams College and the next you’re fighting in rice paddies.
With employability in mind, why should students major in philosophy?
Well, doing a major in philosophy won’t get you a job in philosophy. But whatever job you do
get, you’ll be better at it, and you’ll be more likely to get it in the first place. Studying philosophy
enhances your thinking skills tremendously, your writing skills and oral skills – and that reveals who
you are. That sort of preparation will get you a job in the business world, the entertainment world –
really whatever you want to do.
If you could assume the identity of any philosopher, whose would it be?
Bertrand Russell. In the early part of his life he was a mathematician philosopher. In his middle age
he took up social philosophy and wrote a number of articles that challenged traditional ideas.
He developed a strong social conscience and was really ahead of his time.
You’ve spent your entire career teaching at Roger Williams. If you could
do any job other than your own, what would you do?
There’s really no other job I wanted. But if I could do anything? Best left-handed
pitcher for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
How many faculty or alumni have tried to bribe you for your
“RWU” vanity license plate?
I’m still waiting for some president to ask me for it! I actually got that plate a
few years before the law school went up, when we were still RWC. I just had
a vision that we would eventually be RWU.
What’s your most marked characteristic?
This may be hopeful, but I think one thing that marks me I got
from my father – to accept and treat everyone the same. No one
is more important; we all have the same level of dignity. And
being logical – that’s a marked characteristic!
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