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Philosophy professor leaves ND

Kate Antonacci | Wednesday, April 4, 2007

After teaching thousands of first-year students during his 18 years at Notre Dame, Associate Professor of philosophy William Ramsey has resigned and will be leaving to teach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“For me it came down to weighing incommensurable factors,” Ramsey said. “That is, a career in a well-established, prestigious department at a school with excellent students versus living in a place that allows for the kind of lifestyle I find rewarding and that is closer to my family. I chose life.”

The decision was still a difficult one, but one Ramsey said he’d been considering for a while – especially in the winter “when there are many days that I don’t see the sun,” he said.

Regarding rumblings – some within the philosophy department – that the University “dropped the ball in trying to retain me,” Ramsey said the rumors simply aren’t true.

“There was some miscommunication, but they did move to make a strong counter-offer,” he said, noting that the chair of the department made a concentrated effort to retain him.

“I certainly appreciate that,” Ramsey said. “As it turns out, relocating the university wasn’t an option, though I suspect I’m not the only one who wishes that it was.”

For Ramsey, his life passion of rock climbing was actually a huge motivation.

“Here, the nearest climbing is 400 miles away. Out there, it’s 15 miles away; in fact Las Vegas is one of the main climbing hubs in North America,” he said. “I also enjoy mountain-biking and trail-running, and [Las Vegas] offers plenty of that as well.”

Though Ramsey is an atheist – and generally recognized as such on campus – he said his departure really has nothing to do with religion.

“I have always felt welcomed at Notre Dame, and that says a lot about the place,” Ramsey said. “I’ve come to appreciate much of what Notre Dame stands for and is trying to do, and I think that the administration deserves credit for understanding the difference between education and indoctrination.”

The recent discussion about the Catholic character of Notre Dame’s faculty and the desire of some to have a majority of Catholic faculty have raised other questions about the best way to make Notre Dame distinctively Catholic, Ramsey said. Specific concerns, he said, focus on sacrificing scholarship for religious affiliation.

“Imagine if similar restrictions were placed on football recruiting,” he said. “I have always believed that world-class Protestant or secular scholars working on things like, say, the political views of Augustine, do much more for the Catholic character of Notre Dame than having a certain percentage of Catholic faculty working on things unrelated to a Catholic intellectual tradition.”

Still, Ramsey said there are many religious schools that would not allow someone like him to teach, and students should appreciate Notre Dame’s recognition that “becoming an intellectual grown-up requires exposure to a range of different views and also having your own beliefs challenged.”

“If they ever lose sight of that, it will make Notre Dame not just a poorer university, but a poorer Catholic university,” he said.

Ramsey said he sees the change as a good one, especially because his appointment in Notre Dame’s philosophy department has been his only academic position after graduate school.

Ramsey will be entering the University of Nevada, Las Vegas philosophy department as one of the more senior people in a “very young, but smart” department.

“It has a lot of potential for building, and I find that exciting,” Ramsey said. “They are going to have me initiate a large introductory class, and I’m hoping it will be as gratifying and stimulating as the one I’ve been teaching here.”

Though teaching at a large, secular, public university will be “very different in many ways,” Ramsey said he hopes his new post will be as rewarding and “downright fun” as his job at Notre Dame.

Often rated among the best teachers at the University, Ramsey won the Thomas P. Madden Award for outstanding teaching of freshmen 1999. He was also awarded the College of Arts and Letters Sheedy Award for excellence in teaching in 2005.