James Harold, Professor of Philosophy

Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching

In the course of preparing a citation like this, you read through a lot of student evaluations, and they can sometimes run together in an indistinguishable mass. However, among the many glowing reviews of James Harold’s work as a teacher, this one jumped out:

James is the best dad in the world, to his actual kids and to his students. He fills a classroom with his warm smile, and you can tell he genuinely cares about the well-being and performance of his students. He checks in with us often, is flexible about due dates to ensure we understand the material. He is always on time, is easily reached for extra help, and has a clear and humorous syllabus.

Somehow he magically found a way to make ancient Greek philosophy fun.

There is, in fact, nothing mysterious, nothing occult about the “magic” cited in the second paragraph: it is compounded from the genuine warmth, care, concern, and clarity detailed in the first.

For a further gloss on the qualities that make him so effective in the classroom, we can turn to the writings of none other than Leo Tolstoy. While this may seem to be smuggled in from another field, James, his official college biography tells us “focuses on imaginative engagement with narrative artworks.” And if you want to talk “narrative artwork” Tolstoy is unquestionably among the heavyweight champions of the world. Recounting a visit by his hero, Konstantin Levin, to the country estate of his sister-in-law in Anna Karenina, Tolstoy makes one of his famous pronouncements about the way things are:

Shamming in anything can deceive the most intelligent, perceptive person; but the most limited child will recognize it and feel aversion, no matter how artfully it is concealed. Whatever Levin’s shortcomings, there was not a hint of sham in him, and therefore the children showed him the same friendliness they found in their mother’s face.

Substitute “students” for “children,” “Harold” for “Levin,” and you’ve pretty much got a formula for that magic. There is no shamming in James Harold.


The warmth, the concern, and the clarity combined with high intellect are real and they are infectious. They carry over from the classroom to the vibrant life of the department he chairs. The lively Monday meetings (with pizza!) of Philosophy Society attended by both faculty and students, and the standing-room-only lecture series sponsored by the department are continuous with what James does in his classes. His department, both faculty and students, are always teaching, always learning. Together with the remarkable group of colleagues he has helped assemble, he has achieved the impossible. At a time when there is widespread skepticism about the value of a liberal arts education in general and the humanities in particular, the Mount Holyoke College Department of Philosophy under James’s watch is flourishing and has attracted some of the most able students at this college to its courses and to its major. This is an achievement of which any of us would be proud. The award he receives today is well-earned.

Please join me in honoring James Harold with the Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching.