Lee Bowie

Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching

Lee Bowie began teaching at Mount Holyoke College in 1975, and since then has taught students how to think logically, to argue persuasively, and to write and speak with precision, coherence, and clarity. He has also inspired confidence in them, challenged them to excel, encouraged them to be intellectually adventurous, and without exception, made them laugh.

His students describe Lee as an engaging and gifted lecturer, a skilled facilitator of active learning, and a good listener who is "incredibly helpful, super-intelligent, and quick on his feet." As one student writes, "Professor Bowie is just too awesome ... His class is a must go." Another comment, "Lee Bowie is the perfect teacher. Honestly, years of experience have obviously paid off." A third states, "The most effective part of his teaching style is his obvious love and enthusiasm for the subject matter. Symbolic logic could be seen as sterile or even pointless if not presented correctly, but Professor Bowie makes it relate to the world and demonstrates the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of the system."

Beyond what our current students are saying about their beloved professor, I have my own insights into Lee as a teacher. I came to Mount Holyoke in 1978 as a philosophy major, and for those of us who aspired to be professional philosophers, we could not have asked for a more extraordinary mentor. One of my contemporaries, Rosanne Kennedy '81, now a professor at Australia National University, agrees. Rosanne writes, "Studying with Lee was one of the highlights of my education at MHC, and influenced my decision to become a philosophy major. Lee was an innovative and warm teacher, both rigorous and witty. I especially remember an ethics class--Lynn Pasquerella was one of my classmates--where he engaged us in thinking through challenging issues such as personhood and the status of the fetus. He always had his door open to students, and was happy to discuss ideas, offer suggestions, or simply listen. He is one of those increasingly rare teachers who modeled what a liberal arts education should be. I strive to emulate the humane values and the sheer pleasure he brought to teaching."

The impact of Lee's teaching is as significant for those who have chosen a life outside of the academy. I learned recently that one of the individuals on whom he had the most profound influence is David Westin, who took a class with Lee at the University of Michigan and went on to serve as the president of ABC News for more than a decade. Of course, Lee would be the first to point out the difference between causation and correlation. Yet, what each of us who were privileged to be his student has in common is that we were caused by Lee to think about the world in new ways.

The cases, questions, and dilemmas Lee brought to the classroom served as the basis for a body of work he developed with Meridith Michaels, Robert Solomon, and Kathleen Higgins. The first, Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy, written with Michaels and Solomon appeared in 1988, and most recently in 2011. Four years after Twenty Questions appeared, a new volume was introduced, Fifteen Questions in Ethics. While the number of questions seems to be dwindling, the critical importance of introducing them to students in philosophy classes around the world is burgeoning.

As founding co-director of the Weissman Center; founding director of the Speaking, Arguing and Writing Program; Dean of the College; chair of the Philosophy Department; and chair or member of each of the College's standing committees, Lee has been an advocate for academic excellence, student leadership, and the seamless integration of the curricular and co-curricular in the lives of our students. For this, and so much more, we honor Lee Bowie with the Teaching Excellence Award. It is not just Rosanne, but all of us in the Mount Holyoke community who strive to emulate the humane values and sheer pleasure you bring to teaching.