I was the first to earn the Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of South Florida. I graduated in 1992 and I regard my experience there as being excellent. And, I attribute much of my academic success to the professors who taught me. They include Stephen Turner, Bruce Silver, Joanne Waugh, and Willis Truit, but there were many others who supported and challenged me as well. Before I discuss my experiences at USF, I want to give a sense of my accomplishments.
- More than 50 articles mostly in peer-reviewed journals. These include Max Weber Studies, Journal of Classical Sociology, History of the Human Sciences, History of European Ideas, The American Sociologist, Sociological Theory, European Journal of Sociology, Kant-Studien, and The British Journal of the History of Philosophy.
- More than 30 articles in the following encyclopedias: Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Philosophers, The SAGE Encyclopedia of the Sociology of Religion, The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Theory, and theRoutledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Close to 150 review essays and book reviews in dozens of journals.
Having lectured in a dozen countries and have taught in three.
My Time at USF
When I first enrolled in the University of South Florida in 1980 it was not in the philosophy department and I was not a typical student. I was thirty, newly divorced with a three-year old daughter, and had spent most of the four previous years working in Florida boat companies as a master cabinet maker. It was not that I was unfamiliar with philosophy or even graduate school, because I had graduated from Northern Illinois University in 1972 and I had double the number of credits to earn a B.A. in philosophy. I also had distinguished myself in different ways. For example, I took a directed studies in English and read twenty-five Russian books. And I took another directed studies in philosophy where I wrote a fifty-page paper on Kafka. The professor told me that if this were the English department, that would be my M.A. thesis. Finally, the same professor told me that I knew more about Nietzsche than he did, so I need not ask him any more questions. After I graduated, I continued in graduate school for one semester when a family crisis forced me to quit. My positive experience at NIU would be repeated later at USF.
During my first semester at USF, I attended a lecture that Willis Truitt gave on Nietzsche. When it came time for questions and comments, I took issue with one of his points. Truitt granted that my interpretation was correct and I figured that even if I had antagonized him, it did not matter because I was never going to be in the philosophy department. So, it was a surprise when my professors suggested that I should be in philosophy. With some trepidation, I met with Truitt. But he welcomed me into the department, appointed me as a Teaching Assistant, and gave me a logic textbook with the instructions to be ready to teach my own class in logic within three weeks. That was indicative of the autonomy and confidence that the department continued to have in me.
I concentrated on ancient philosophy and studied mostly with Joanne Waugh. I wrote a thesis on Plato’s Philosopher King and it is still regarded by some as one of the best ones written. Having graduated in 1982, I had hoped to continue at USF but there was no Ph.D. program so on the advice of Bruce Silver, I applied and was accepted in the philosophy department at the University of Virginia. As Silver suggested, I found the “Grounds” to be stunning; but the department itself was less than welcoming. After my first year, most of the fifty graduate students quit in frustration. I was one of the few who stayed, but I felt out of place because the majority of the faculty were analytical philosophers and had only disdain for my interest in the history of philosophy. I was finally given one month to prepare for preliminary examines. I did not pass but did not fail, and when I asked what I should do, I was not given an answer. I believed that I had no future and left the program and became a house guide at Monticello. That, and the fact that I was a member of the UVA Thomas Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, helped make me a better teacher than I might have been because I had to be ready with answers to almost any type of question.
Mid-summer 1985, I learned that the new Ph.D. program in philosophy was coming to USF “soon” so my wife Stephanie (who I met at UVA) moved to Florida. “Soon” turned into five years and when the program was finally put in place, I was the first to enroll. From fall of 1985 until spring of 1992, I was both an adjunct teaching a number of different courses as well as the assistant to Bruce Silver. I was also involved in several other departments as a grader or as an adjunct but my major focus was always in philosophy. In the first semester of the Ph.D. program, I took three courses which completed that requirement. In the spring of 1991, I took the four days of preliminary exams and passed all. However, the professor who graded my philosophy of science exam told me that I should not pursue that field. Of course, I had never given any hint that I was even remotely interested in that area, so I took that professor’s comments as what Bruce Silver would refer to a “gratuitous trouble.”
Unlike at UVA, the number is instances that I encountered “gratuitous trouble” was astonishing small. As I was interested in doing a dissertation on Kant, Silver was the natural choice because he specialized in modern philosophy. Although his preference was always the Rationalists or the Empiricists, he was willing to direct my thesis on Kant’s First Critique. Silver and I carefully selected people to serve on my committee who Silver believed would not cause any “gratuitous trouble.” And the defense of my proposal had been scheduled when a dean pointed out that since Silver had not published anything in the previous two years, he was ineligible to be chair of the committee. Having been removed from that position, Silver resigned from the committee. The defense went ahead with Stephen Turner as chair. After I had defended my proposal successfully, I was told that the topic should be changed to Neo-Kantianism. Shortly after, the dean was convinced that Silver was qualified to direct so he took over as chair. Since I had to find a replacement, my committee ended up with six members rather than the traditional five. The fact that Silver was teaching in Italy for the fall, 1991 semester made the work on the dissertation a bit more difficult. I would send him a chapter and he would review it; I would send the revision to Italy, where he would check it again.
For the most part there was no question of the scholarship but Silver occasionally insisted that I change the wording, which I did. But then he found fault with the new word, so I would change it back to its original. Was this “gratuitous trouble”—I did not think so then nor do I believe it to true now. It was Silver being careful because at the outset he told me that he was going to be more critical than usual because this was the first dissertation and it had to serve as a model and because he did not want any complaints about favoritism because of our close professional relationship. The dissertation was The Neo-Kantian “Raum” Controversy—from Trendelenburg to Vaihinger and I successfully defended it in March and then graduated in May 1992 as the first Ph.D. in the Department of Philosophy at the University of South Florida. Years later, I asked Turner why the shift to Neo-Kantian and he replied that with that topic I would have a much greater chance at success.
After graduation, I continued to work at USF teaching in other departments and was Turner’s assistant. In February 1994, Nancy Stanlick alerted me to a possible position in Germany. It turned out it was for the American University in Bulgaria. I applied and was accepted and things seemed to be going well when Stephanie was diagnosed with cancer. We got her through the surgery and I was there for the first couple of weeks of radiation. But I had an international conference to attend in Germany and needed to be in Bulgaria not just to received the books and household goods that we had shipped from Clearwater but to prepare for the fall semester. During the weeks that Stephanie was finishing her radiation treatment, Joanne Waugh graciously allowed her to stay in her vacant Tampa apartment. That meant that the trips to Moffitt Cancer Center were not as taxing as they might have been. Joanne’s consideration was indicative of the support that was almost always given by most of the members of the department.
My wife and I taught at AUBG from 1994 until 2001 and some of what I had learned at USF helped me to prepare for the shock of living in Bulgaria. Stephanie was German born but her father had been Bulgarian. After living in Germany during the war, he then joined the American military and moved his family to the US. Stephanie and I were friends who often met for lunch but her father’s death made us realize that we were destined for each other. Stephanie was a UVA person, having earned all three degrees from there. And we had gotten married in the Chapel at UVA in October 1983.
Stephanie’s mother was not thrilled by the idea of us moving to the country where the previous communist government had confiscated her late husband’s family property. And she knew probably better than us that living conditions would be bad. Lack of food, electricity that was faulty, and the questionable water supply were only some of the problems that we faced. Stephanie taught German and sociology and I concentrated on the history of philosophy. But the economic collapse of 1996-1997 made me shift my focus to Max Weber and social economics. While the economic situation was always bad, our students always made up for it. They worked hard for us because they trusted us. Often, we would have ten-hour days because we were working to solve some problem that a student had. We realized that our experiences, both good and bad, would always shape our lives back in the West.
We finally left in the spring of 2001 and began to split the year between Virginia and southern Germany where we had an apartment. I continued to correspond with Turner and one morning in the early summer of 2002 he sent me an email asking whether I would consider teaching for one semester at Mississippi State University. After checking with Stephanie, I sent back an email saying sure—after Bulgaria we could handle anything. Turner suggested that maybe I should not be so sure, given the cultural differences in Mississippi. As always, he was right because of the heavily Christian and traditional patriarchal society. My 1993 Mercedes-Benz was the only foreign car in our apartment complex. In fact, it was one of three cars compared to some 90 trucks. The one semester turned into two but then we returned to splitting the year between Virginia and Germany. I continued to publish and finally did my first book. Then, I returned to teaching at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen. I taught several courses in Social Theory, but then the university closed the department. Just as in the US and Bulgaria, my German students were wonderful. And it was largely because my professors at USF had been so great, that I was able to be a rather good and caring professor.
To conclude, my experiences in the USF Department of Philosophy were uniformly good. I was both supported and challenged. I remember one time as I was finishing my Ph.D. when Truitt asked me to teach the session on Hegel in his graduate seminar. While Silver questioned the effort in trying to publish, Turner and others pushed me to do so. After UVA I was not certain that I would ever earn the doctorate, but Stephanie continued to encourage me. And the people in the department gave me the opportunity to earn the Ph.D. When I was finishing high school, I has three counselors tell me that I was “too stupid to go to college.” I often relay that comment to my students and add that if I can do it, so can they—as long as they have professors who believe in them as well as challenge them. That is what I found at USF and that is why I am so proud of being the first person to have been granted the Ph.D. in Philosophy. While I am sure that things have changed there since I was there, I am also equally certain that there is still the same atmosphere of intellectual integrity and scholarly excellence. I believe it is still the department which welcomes those who are willing to do the hard work and will be pleased with the successes of its graduates.