November 2, 2023 | FEATURES | By Charlotte Maley
The Philosophy Department at Colorado College has been unique since its conception. In 1948, J. Glenn Gray, a philosopher of violence and wisdom, was hired as the chair and sole professor of the department, where he became one of the first people to introduce continental philosophical thought to the American classroom.
His innovative and revolutionary works would go on to set a precedent for the progressive curriculum that is emblematic in the department’s teachings today, where students can take classes on everything from psychoanalysis to Africana philosophy. However, due to pending retirements for many of its staff, these current strengths of the department could be in danger.
It was recently announced that Professor Alberto Hernández-Lemus, who has been teaching at CC since 1999, is set to retire after the spring semester of this year. Hernandez-Lemus, a scholar of Deleuze, was essential in developing some of the department’s most equity-focused course offerings, such as Latin American and globalization philosophy.
Throughout his time at CC, Hernandez-Lemus has changed the academic and personal lives of countless students and will be dearly missed.
“Alberto teaches philosophy in a way that is both tactically relevant to global movements for justice and understanding your own life,” Willa Schendler ’26 said. “If you have had Alberto as a professor… you have been lucky enough to have a meandering office hours conversation with him that is part academic lecture on the importance of paying attention to the margins of philosophical/social thought, and part advice on how to personally navigate this strange and wonderful life.”
According to Helen Daly, who has been chair of the department since 2019, a tenure-track replacement for him has not yet been found.
However, the Philosophy Department is not at risk of losing just one of its stars; it has been confirmed that three of the seven current philosophy professors are considering retirement within the next five years. John Riker and Jonathan Lee are likely to leave their current positions alongside Hernandez-Lemus.
Additionally, another professor in the department is rumored to be considering retirement in the next few years, as well, which would result in the loss of more than half of the current department.
Each one of these losses will surely result in a total restructuring of philosophy course offerings.
“There is very little overlap between what each faculty member in [the] department does,” and due to the fact that “[they] cover an exceptionally wide range of philosophical traditions… each faculty member is essential,” Daly said.
The current department has not seen any permanent faculty changes since Daly’s arrival in 2011, which she claims is a contributing factor to why philosophy is so strong at CC – they’ve, “had time to develop a deep understanding together as a department.”
With almost half of the members set to leave their posts in a few years, this network of shared values could be in jeopardy.
Daly, however, looks to the future of philosophy at CC in a positive light.
“Our clear, shared vision of our values will help us welcome a new colleague, someone with new interests and ideas. Change is an opportunity to learn, and we’re excited about that. Throughout these changes, our top priority will be to retain our intellectual pluralism and our supportive, mutually respectful department community,” Daly said. “We think that those characteristics are essential for the collaborative, diverse learning environment we want to maintain for our students.”
John Riker, who is casually referred to as the father of the department and has been teaching at CC for over half a century, said, “The current department has been together for over a decade.”
Given that three, or possibly even four of them, are on the cusp of leaving, Riker said, “the department will change significantly – it will be younger, but, hopefully, always attuned to the well-being of our students.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story accidentally misspelled the name of Professor Alberto Hernández-Lemus.