People. They are the best thing about working at the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc says Philosophy Professor Alan White, Ph.D. He will be retiring at the end of the fall 2017 semester after more than 36 years on campus.
“UW-Manitowoc is a place that nurtures all of its people,” said Dr. White. “And, of course, being a campus on Lake Michigan is one thing I’ve dearly loved, just for its ambiance and beauty.”
After teaching for three years at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville while he completed his Ph.D., White came to UW-Manitowoc in the fall of 1981. He has been leading philosophical discussions in the classroom and around campus ever since then. He has taught wide-ranging courses including Biomedical Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Epistemology (a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge) and many more. His favorite course is Philosophy of Science, a strong area of interest for him.
In recognition of his excellence in teaching and impact on student success, White was named Wisconsin Professor of the Year in 1996 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). In 2009, he received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in the UW Colleges.
“Al White perfected the topic-focused method of teaching Philosophy 101,” said Evan Kreider, chair of the UW Colleges Philosophy Department and professor at UW-Fox Valley. “His undergrad students can argue about free will against even the best graduate students.”
Dr. Maureen Crowley, UW-Manitowoc psychology professor, reflected on White’s career and said students have always been highly complimentary of him as he facilitated exploration of religious identity in his Philosophy of Religion class. “He never pressured them about their religious beliefs except to make them think about and explore their beliefs,” said Crowley. “He fosters their thinking and allows them to give birth to their ideas and own their minds.”
With a self-described “lifelong obsession with satirical ditties,” White’s sense of humor is evident in dozens of philosophy songs he has composed. He not only writes the lyrics, he performs the vocals for many of them, including one with 27 different vocal harmony tracks. White sometimes used these songs to illustrate discussion topics in his classes and several years ago, a version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” sung by White was played prior to Blue Devils basketball games on campus.
As a highly regarded philosophy scholar, White has published articles in top research journals on the philosophy of time and about the area of free will and action theory. He’s conducted extensive research work in pedagogy – the method and practice of teaching. White said some of his most interesting work was through an 18-year involvement in the regional State Supreme Court’s Office of Lawyer Regulation.
“Professor White cares deeply about the academy and it shows in all that he has achieved,” said Martin Rudd, UW Colleges regional executive officer and dean. “Aside of his classroom and research excellence, he played a critical role in mentoring junior faculty, defending the work of faculty and he commanded the utmost respect from all of us who engaged with him in matters of higher education, and especially the importance of UW-Manitowoc in our community.”
When he began his career, White was perhaps 10 years older than the high school graduate beginning college. He’s made it a point to stay in contact with pop culture, “just to stay in the swing of how younger people see things.”
His best advice for today’s student is “Read, read, read. Developing the love of reading is not only the key to intellectual development; it’s really the best way to express yourself, as well.”
For this professor, retirement does not mean he’s leaving the field of philosophy. White will be continuing his research and his participation in The Center for Ethics in Education, part of the UW-Madison Center for Education Research. With almost four decades of experience to draw from, he will present a paper at their February meeting about teaching introductory philosophy in open-access higher education institutions like UW-Manitowoc.
In addition to song lyrics, White has written poetry. Retirement will give him more time to dedicate to these compositions and his goal is to compile a book of poems to submit to a university press for publication.
White has shared philosophical wisdom from Socrates to Plato with countless students during his academic career. Former UW-Manitowoc student Catherine Hinkle said she was fortunate enough to take classes taught by White. “I wish I would have had time to take more though,” she said. “Professor White is one of the smartest people I have ever had contact with and UW-Manitowoc was very fortunate to have him for all of these years."
If philosophy is defined as the systematic study of ideas, the reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for comprehensive understanding of the world and the love of wisdom, Dr. Alan White has left the campus and area community enriched in all of these areas.