Dr. Victoria Wike is Professor and Graduate Program Director at Loyola University Chicago. She kindly agreed to participate in AGSP’s Faculty Profile Series. Her faculty page is here: http://www.luc.edu/philosophy/faculty_wike.shtml.
AGSP: Thank you for participating in our Faculty Profile Series. Because you serve as the Graduate Program Director at Loyola, most if not all of us have interacted with you on a professional level, but focused on our needs and concerns. We’re excited to turn the attention back to you. How did you decide to go into academic philosophy?
VW: I found philosophy because the small liberal arts college I attended had a required series of Humanities courses. I got started teaching thanks to the confidence of a teacher of mine. As an upper-classman, I applied for a filing job in the philosophy department and the chair told me, no, we want you to be a discussion leader for the Humanities course. After college, I was awarded an ITT-Fulbright grant to study philosophy in Paris where I completed a Licence degree and heard Foucault and Derrida lecture. Then I came back to grad school at Penn State where I became interested in Kant and left behind the French philosophers!
AGSP: From discussion leader to full professor and graduate director! What brought you to Loyola University Chicago?
VW: I came to LUC straight from grad school, thanks to Ardis Collins who contacted one of my teachers about job openings. That year, there were four new hires in the philosophy department. At the time, I was keen on teaching at a small liberal arts college, but I found that there are definite advantages to being at a larger mission-driven university like Loyola. For one thing, philosophy is valued here, so we’re not at the fringes of the university. For another thing, a large department like ours means that we have a variety of specializations and teaching styles available to students. It also means no faculty member has to do everything…if your area is modern, nobody is going to ask you to teach ancient.
AGSP: I imagine that enables you to focus on your research interests. What is your area of specialization, and what are you currently working on?
VW: My primary area of specialization is Kant’s moral philosophy and in terms of teaching is bioethics. On Kant, I’m working on Robert Johnson’s claim that the derivation of the duty to self-improve involves the premise that one is pursuing one’s own happiness, and in bioethics I’m looking at the virtue of humility in medicine. I’m always interested in the pieces on the edges of Kant’s philosophy that get overlooked in the big picture view…pieces like the highest good, friendship, moral education, and philanthropy.
AGSP: What do you enjoy most about being a professional philosopher?
VW: I think a really wonderful thing about being an academic is the variability and flexibility of the work. There are such a variety of opportunities that arise and there are so many different possible ways in which one can work. So, in my own experience, I’ve done research, taught, and administered programs (the Bioethics Minor, and now the Grad Program), served on College and University committees that revised the core curriculum, reviewed faculty appeals, awarded fellowships, and I’ve taught at the Rome Center, traveled on faculty-staff international trips, single authored and co-authored publications, created new courses, etc.
AGSP: Wow, that is a wide variety of opportunities! Probably many aspiring philosophers are attracted by the life of contemplation—which tends to be equated with “research” in contemporary parlance. But as you point out, there are so many more responsibilities, and privileges, from the academic life. Take teaching for instance: what is the most important thing that you hope students take away from your classes?
VW: The main thing for me, especially at the undergrad level where we can’t presuppose this in students, is to try to have students do philosophy and not just learn about philosophy. Obviously they need to read and study philosophers, but I’m willing to sacrifice some of the details of the content of what they are reading in order to encourage them to analyze, assess, defend a claim, and so forth. I try to give students lots of opportunities to respond. In health care ethics courses, I have them do assignments where they read an editorial and then justify their agreement or disagreement with the author. Students also work in small groups on class presentations and all written assignments are essay based—no multiple choice or true/false questions. I want the students in my courses to be able to explain, qualify, critique, and evaluate various ethical and philosophical positions, and to do so, I think, they need opportunities to talk and write. Even in graduate courses, I ask students to present summaries of their final papers in class and do peer responses to others’ papers.
AGSP: It is easy to think of philosophy as content, and forget that it is an activity, one which requires practice. Let’s shift gears. How do you like to spend your time when you’re not doing philosophy?
VW: I like to travel. My family and I went to Guam in December to visit our daughter who was on a work assignment there. I also like to cook and bake, walk, and read fiction and nonfiction. Currently, I am planning a walking tour on the coast of Wales—combining travel and walking! Oh, and I should say, I enjoy watching sports; I believe I am the only philosophy faculty member with season tickets to the Loyola men’s basketball games. Go Ramblers!
AGSP: Well, we have benefited from your baking—we appreciate the cookies you bring to meetings! In closing, what advice would you give to aspiring academic philosophers?
VW: Don’t take forever to complete your dissertation. Your dissertation is not your life’s work, but a step towards it. Also, find your own style. Not everybody has to research or teach in the same way. Go with your strengths.
AGSP: Well, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with us. Go Ramblers!