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Meet 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Sally Scholz


Spring 2019 | By CLA Staff. Photo by Rebecca Wilcox.


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This week we will recognize the five Purdue College of Liberal Arts graduates who were recognized with the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award on Friday, March 22.

Today’s recipient is Sally J. Scholz (MA 1991, Ph.D. 1993, Philosophy), who serves as department chair and professor of philosophy at Villanova University. Scholz’s research – including books on Beauvoir and Rousseau – has been widely published, and she has also held multiple leadership positions within national philosophical societies.

Here are some of her thoughts on studying within the liberal arts at Purdue:

Q: How did majoring in liberal arts impact your life?

A: I received my Ph.D. from Purdue in philosophy and I have been a professional philosopher ever since, so you could say that it’s the soul of my life. But I would say, too, that the liberal arts is really important not just for a job or even for a vocation, but also for citizenship and being part of a community.

Q: What was your favorite course at Purdue and why?

A: I took a team-taught graduate course on social contract theory and if I had to guess, I think it was my very first semester here. It was a terrific course. It was terrific to see two scholars engage with each other and to argue – in philosophy, we argue – with each other, and to see that they were just genuinely having fun talking about ideas. I did go on to specialize in the subject matter, as well, so obviously it played an important role there, but these two scholars actually ended up three years later being on my dissertation committee, as well, and have been friends since.

I think it was just a really important moment to have a small class that had such tremendous models of leading an intellectual life and, in particular, modeling intellectual virtues where we can disagree, but we can do it in a community that’s characterized by respect and a community of scholars who are really dedicated to the same thing: to the education of their students.

Q: Who are the scholars you mentioned?

A: Bill McBride and Larry May. Bill is still here. He’s tremendous. And Larry was here through most of my graduate work and then went to (Washington University in St. Louis).

Q: What would you have done professionally if you hadn’t selected the career path that you did?

A: I always say that philosophy chose me, so I’m not so certain I had much choice in the matter. I’ve joked or dabbled with, when I first went to college, I said I was going to be a diplomat. But as my husband will tell you, I’m not terribly diplomatic. But I do have interests in international relations and, in particular, in human rights, so maybe more like a human rights lawyer or something like that might have been fun. I like to write. Maybe something using that. I actually love to copy edit, so anything that dealt with teaching, copy editing a newspaper. Anything along these lines.

Q: How has Purdue changed since you were a student?

A: Tremendously in the perimeter look if that makes sense. There are certain aspects of the town that are exactly the same. I walked past Von’s, which is still there. We used to hang out quite a lot and look at the books. That was fun. It looks exactly the same.

I lived in Young Hall and I see that it’s still in existence. I’m not sure if it’s still graduate student housing. There are these huge apartment buildings everywhere now and we didn’t have any of that. My last year here was the first year that this building (Beering Hall) opened. I think we called it LAEB, the Liberal Arts and Education Building. We had previously been housed in the Recitation Building, and that was fun. It was a great place to be. I noticed that the doors on that building are different. So there’s a lot that’s the same on the interior part.

Stewart looks exactly the same. It’s amazing, too, to me that I could remember where things were and how to get from Point A to Point B 25 years later. The graduate student union has changed quite a bit. It’s now a food court. And we had the smokestack then and now you have the bell tower. I don’t remember what the population of Purdue was back then, but I would guess that it’s easily at least a third more now, so it’s much, much larger.

Q: What advice would you offer to students now who are majoring in philosophy?

A: It’s going to sound cliché, but it’s just so true: Believe in yourself and believe in your ideas. If you have something to say, say it. But also realize that philosophy can do anything for you. Philosophy serves as a strong foundation for so many other fields. So if you choose to go into philosophy like I did as a profession, that’s only one way of living life as a philosopher. I think that there is room in the world, and actually today we need a lot more philosophers. We need many more invitations to just stop and think and to consider what it means to say certain things, to believe certain things, to act in particular ways. Philosophy is that invitation. So you can live the life of a philosopher doing whatever you do: as a writer, as a journalist, as a social worker, as a banker, as a financial analyst – whatever it is. Love it. Do it because you love it.

One other very practical piece of advice is to put down the phone. Be bored and don’t always flip through apps or news or whatever. It’s only when we silence all the noise, when we start to allow for the quiet, do we start to also create the space for creativity and understanding.