Professor of the Week: Joseph Thompson

By Jeremia Schrock
Sun Star Contributor

Name: Joseph C. Thompson
Department: Philosophy
Years teaching at UAF: 11

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Ithaca, New York, but I grew up in New York City. In Queens and Brooklyn.

When did you first come to Alaska?

January, 1999.

Why did you come to Alaska?

I was offered a position. I was offered four classes to teach that spring semester. And that happens never when you’re in graduate school. I hadn’t even written my dissertation yet!

What is one thing you would hate being called?

Maybe…pseudo-scientific.

Why “pseudo-scientific?”

Well, I’m interested in things like astrology. And people who don’t know much about it think that it’s a pseudo-science. That is something I hate.

How would you describe your teaching style?

Passionate but off-the-cuff. Kind of free- form. More…improvisatory. I lecture from a few notes and what I have in my head.

What is your favorite class to teach?

It’s got to be my Humanities class. Humanities 201X: Unity in the Arts. A core class of all things, and not philosophy! I’m getting paid to rave intelligently about things that I just love! Architecture, sculpture, mythology, painting, music, Shakespeare. That has got to be my favorite.

What do you like best about philosophy?

The opportunity. The almost unlimited opportunity. If you want to do something here, there’s room to do it, and there’s a venue for it. There may even be a need for it. Whether scholarly, personally, if you want to go out and explore, you can. You don’t face the same narrow territorialism that I’ve seen in some other disciplines.

How do you relax after a tough week?

Well, I play the piano…and…I “modify” my consciousness!

What is the one thing that you would want to have if you were stranded on a desert island?

The “Riverside Shakespeare.” I would let go the rest of literature, philosophy, art, if I had to. If I could just take one thing it would be that, and I would think myself adequately provided for. I could just…memorize all the plays of Shakespeare! That wouldn’t be too bad at all!

How do you challenge your students?

I give them hard material, difficult concepts. I throw a lot at them. I probably pack more words into a minute then some other instructors. Being from New York, I just talk very fast and pack a lot in where other people might stop and hold and explain and wait and pause. I manage to get in three sentences in the time when they would have still been completing the verb of their first sentence!

What is your favorite book of all time?

I’m going to have to commit the literary sin of calling it a book and say the Bible would be my favorite book of all time.

Why?

Because there is so much in it. It really isn’t one book. It’s dozens of books, and it’s been enormously influential on me, as well as my culture and my history. Not for it’s religious content, well, maybe for its spiritual content, something like that. So, if I could take two books to the proverbial desert island, the second would be the King James Bible. So, Shakespeare and the King James Bible, then I would be very adequately prepared!

If you had to describe yourself in one word, what would it be?

Untenured! But, I will be going up for tenure in a couple of years.

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