Michael K. Hooker, Professor of Philosophy and eighth Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, died on June 29, 1999, at the age of 53. Since his death much has been written about his achievements in the realms of university administration and public service. The UNC Philosophy Department wishes to take a few minutes today to pay tribute to Michael Hooker, the scholar and teacher, who was both our valued colleague and a colleague of the philosophical community world-wide.
In July 1995, Michael Hooker returned to his alma mater as its Chancellor and Professor in the Philosophy Department in which he began his career 30 years earlier. Michael took his first formal philosophy courses in 1965 from Professors Maynard Adams, Edward Galligan, and Jay Rosenberg. It is reported that he entered UNC intending to major in physics, because he thought it was the hardest thing to study. But, when he discovered philosophy, he decided that it was the hardest subject, and so majored in philosophy. He earned a BA with highest honors in philosophy in 1969. His honors thesis, "A Theory of Referring," was directed by Professor Jay Rosenberg. Michael went on to earn a PhD in philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1973, focusing his attention on early modern philosophy. Upon completion of his doctorate he accepted a prestigious position in the philosophy department at Harvard University, but soon moved on to become an Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University in 1975. There he almost immediately began his career in university administration in the office of the Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Studies. Already in his early years, Hooker established himself as an outstanding scholar and teacher. He published highly regarded papers on Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Berkeley, Thomas Reid, and C. S. Peirce, and soon had edited very successful volumes of critical essays on Descartes and Leibniz. He also made important contributions to topics in epistemology and metaphysics.
In the early 1980s he turned his keen analytical skills to practical, moral issues. He began to study, write, and lecture on problems in medical ethics, biotechnology, the ethics of philanthropy, and the philosophy and practice of education. His interests in and scholarly contributions to these diverse fields continued over the next two decades, slowed, to be sure, but never stopped, by the demands of his administrative duties. Over the years he produced more than two dozen essays and reviews on philosophical topics, in addition to a large number of articles and lectures addressed to a wider educated audience. In addition, in 1989, he authored a professional code of ethics for university presidents for The American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Throughout his career as high-level university administrator at Johns Hopkins, Bennington College, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, University of Massachusetts, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he lectured regularly on philosophical issues at universities and professional conferences around the country. He also participated actively in professional organizations. He served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Business Ethics and Studia Cartesiana; he served on advisory boards of the International Berkeley Society and the Leibniz Society; and he served on several boards and committees of the American Philosophical Association.
Michael Hookerís work on behalf of public education generally, and especially public higher education, has been amply documented, and his passionate commitment to the enterprise of teaching is especially evident in his work for LEARN North Carolina. Less well-known, perhaps, but no less important were his efforts to improve the teaching of philosophy. Colleagues at Harvard and Johns Hopkins described Hooker as a "master teacher," and his reputation for the quality of his teaching lead to his appointment as Chair of the American Philosophical Associationís Committee on Teaching, in which capacity he served for four years. Also, for five years running he led workshops for college professors on teaching philosophy sponsored by the APA. He understood the importance of classroom teaching and sought to promote it through all means at his disposal. This concern was manifested later in his championing of initiatives to improve the intellectual climate on the UNC campus.
Unavoidably, once he entered the higher reaches of university administration, Michael was able to devote only a small portion of his time and energy to scholarly pursuits and even less to teaching. In view of the brilliant beginning of his career, this was viewed by the discipline of philosophy as a great loss, however great a gain it may have been for the institutions on whose behalf he tirelessly worked. We in the UNC Philosophy Department especially looked forward eagerly to the day when Michael would return to Caldwell Hall, this time as a full-time teaching colleague. (When the Chair was enlisting faculty last year to develop first-year seminars, he received a request from Michael to add his name to the list because "it is something I very much want to do." He planned to use historical texts to look at the nature of philosophical questions.) His colleagues in the department greeted the news of his untimely death with great sorrow and a sense of deep loss at having been deprived of the many years of fruitful collaboration with a valued colleague.
The UNC Philosophy Department has dedicated its 33rd annual Chapel Hill Colloquium in Philosophy, to be held the weekend of October 8, 1999, to the memory of Michael K. Hooker, philosopher, teacher, Chancellor, colleague, and friend.
Douglas C. Long
Professor and Chair
Gerald J. Postema
Cary C. Boshamer Professor of Philosophy