Teacher honored with memorial lecture
Sam Allen / UAF Sun Star
A memorial lecture series is planned Wed. Oct. 15 to commemorate UAF Associate Professor of Philosophy and Humanities Joseph C. Thompson who died Aug. 4 at the age of 49 from lung cancer.
Thompson was born in Ithaca New York and grew up in New York City in the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. He got his PhD at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne, where he studied aesthetics, metaphysics, and German philosophy, especially Nietzsche.
Thompson started teaching at the UAF in January 1999. He taught classes ranging from introductory philosophy to core humanities classes to advanced senior thesis.
Earlier this year Thompson won the prestigious Emil Usibelli Distinguished Teaching Award, which is presented each year to top faculty at UAF.
At the time liberal arts dean Todd Sherman referred to him as a student favorite saying he was, “A hard-working and successful teacher who challenges his students to think critically and to be able to communicate their ideas through the spoken and written word.”
Thompson was a passionate piano player and speed chess master according to Assistant Professor of Political Science, Alexander Hirsch. He was a contestant on the television show Jeopardy in 2007 where he came in third and won $1,000.
“Joseph inspired a generation of students at UAF, who often commented on his incredible gift for engaging students and his capacity to quote arcane passages from the history of philosophy from memory. He was incredibly kind and possessed a generous spirit,” said Hirsch.
In a 2010 interview with the Sun Star, Thompson described his own teaching style as passionate and off-the-cuff. His favorite class to teach was Humanities 201X: Unity in the Arts. “I’m getting paid to rave intelligently about things that I just love! Architecture, sculpture, mythology, painting, music, Shakespeare.”
Jonathan Quinones, 26, senior philosophy and political science student at UAF and president of the Socratic Society has been talking with Sherman, Hirsch and Professor of Sociology Sine Anahita since the memorial trying to figure out a way to honor Thompson.
“He changed my whole career path. He was the type of person who would challenge you to do better no matter what—he challenged you to think at a higher level,” said Quinones.
Collectively they came up with the idea to have a lecture series in his honor. The goal is to have it be an annual event wherein money raised from donations will be used to attract speakers in future years.
Professor Hirsch will be the inaugural speaker this year. A good fit according to Quinones, “He’s similar to Thompson in passion and if you let him, he’ll talk to you about philosophy all day.”
Hirsch will lecture on Nietzschean aesthetics.
Former Senate Chair and UAF Alum Daniel Strigle, who just entered law school at Boston college, said that both Hirsch and Thompson pushed him to do more than he thought he was capable of and helped him fight through tough times.
The Socractic Society backed by the College of Liberal Arts is organizing the lecture series on October 15th in the Schiable Auditorium at 7 PM.
When asked by the Sun Star several years ago what his favorite part of philosophy was, he replied, “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.”