Philosophy prof. 'slimed' by '60 Minutes'


I watched the recent "60 Minutes" with chagrin and with deep concern that this kind of stupid attack on our system of higher education might seem warranted, when, in fact, we have the most successful system in the world! (Why else would the United States attract more foreign students than any other country on earth?) But the program had an additional personal element for me, because Keith Lehrer was my professor in Introduction in Philosophy (at the University of Rochester, where he taught before moving to Arizona), and I remember him as the best teacher I have ever had in any courseat any level of my education. Yet "60 Minutes" does all it can to depict him as anti-teaching and as one who would cheat students for his own benefit. This is completely false!

When I came to Lehrer's philosophy class, I had to be the perfect example of an underachiever. I had a lousy attitude about education (I attended college to escape the draft during the Vietnam years of the 2S deferment for college students). My high school teachers had given up on me long before that, and I had regular problems with the law. Nothing motivated me ... until Lehrer's class. Lehrer showed me that there was something fantastically interesting and producive that I could do with my life. Despite some considerable inconsistency in my performance at first, Lehrer took the time and listened and guided me. But as important as this were his lectures: wonderfully constructed, relentlessly reasoned, often deeply-troubling and challenging. From the moment I stepped into that class, there was something beyond any beauty I had ever experienced before for me to pursue, to study, to work hard for. At the age of 17, I knew absolutely what I wanted to do with my life.

Since that time, Lehrer has periodically given me substantial assistance in my career, which has been quite successful. I now list 15 books on my vita and over 50 journal articles, reviews and translations. But I was also the winner of the 1985 American Philological Association Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Classics (Jon Solomon's field!), probably because I have always tried to give to my own students what Keith Lehrer gave to me. I have tried to achieve excellence in my professional career, a career that I have always regarded as a mix of teaching and research─ just as Lehrer has, in his career. Those of you at Arizona who are looking for a role model could hardly do better than to select the one who has served so well as mine.

I think it is also worth adding, for those who are shirt-sighted enough to miss it, that (at least in fields like Philosophy), research generally is a kind of teaching. With the many things Lehrer publishes, he educates his fellow philosophers and their students, all over the world. No doubt that is why there have been two books published about his philosophy by others and why his books are assigned in classes from the introductory through the graduate level all over the world. He is also the Chairman of the Board of Executive Officers of the American Philosophical Association. One could go on and on about the contributions Lehrer has made to his colleagues, to his field and most of all to his own students. I certainly hope no one at The University of Arizona will be so foolish as to accept the grossly distorted picture of Lehrer "60 Minutes" slimed onto the air. Those of us who know the man as a teacher and a scholar know what a wonderful resource all of you at Arizona have in Lehrer.

Nicholas D. Smith

Philosophy Professor

Michigan State University

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