Keep Asking: Retiring Professors and their Continuous Questioning

Retiring professors Jim Welsh, Deborah Goodwin, and Doug Huff offer up a question they will continue to ask—and hope we will too.
Posted on May 15th, 2017 by

This year's retiring professors (l to r): Jim Welsh (geology), Deborah Goodwin (religion), and Doug Huff (philosophy). Not pictured but also retiring, Don Scheese (English)


Jim Welsh Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies
QUESTION: How does this form?

The great thing about geology is that it is big picture. A lot of science is getting tinier and tinier—subatomic particles and bits of cells. Geologists go the other way. We study rocks to figure out what happened. We ask, “How did this form?” It’s macro—with an added fourth dimension of time. Another great thing about geology is the combination of working outdoors and traveling. Big Bend (Texas),
Hawaii, the Virgin Islands—for me, the very best fied trips are the first ones, when I’m discovering
along with the students. We just got back from a spring break trip to Big Bend National Park. That
place is incredible—so much great rock exposure, the desert is in bloom, and the night sky is
absolutely phenomenal.

Deborah Goodwin Professor of Religion and Environmental Studies
QUESTION: Is this inevitable or is it someone’s business plan?

Kathleen Dean Moore’s 2012 Nobel Conference speech inspired this question and my course on religion and climate change. In it we read Pope Francis’s Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality. He argues that heedless methods of production and habits of consumption destroy the health of the planet and the dignity of living beings. I want students to know that they are more than their consumer choices, that consumerism inhibits their essential dignity, and that there are creative, even joyful, ways to resist it. Also this semester I’ve taught Perspectives on Evil, Sin, and Suffering for the last time. Students often have compelling personal reasons to explore why bad things happen to good people: that classroom can be a powerful place to be. I am grateful for all that the students have taught me about courage and faith.

Doug Huff Professor of Philosophy
QUESTION: How should one live?

I taught a first-year class called The Individual and Morality where students wrote a paper on that question from their own point of view. I made a clean copy, and it was kept in the dean’s office until they were seniors, then handed back. Obviously it was enlightening to see what they said three years before. Sooner or later you will have fundamental concerns about how one should live, and you will have to talk about God. My job has been to create a safe atmosphere where students are free to say something stupid, which is very important. As for me, I’ve had one job, one wife, one child, and one house. It looks as boring as you could possibly imagine. But there is lots of travel, and opportunity for thinking and writing. I will keep doing that. I’ll rent an office downtown. I’ll work on my projects—another play, another philosophy paper. We will travel. My life won’t change that much because I just love those things.


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