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Teacher-Scholar Personified

Written by Mike Thee
March 30, 2016

Dan Dombrowski, professor of philosophy, has been named the 2016-2017 recipient of the James B. McGoldrick, S.J., Fellowship, President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., announced earlier this month. 

Named for James B. McGoldrick, S.J., a legendary Seattle University Jesuit, the fellowship is the most prestigious award conferred upon a faculty member and recognizes a professor who exemplifies the mission and ideals of the university. It comes with a one-quarter sabbatical. 

"Extraordinarily prolific as a scholar, wholly committed to his students and generous as a mentor to colleagues, Professor Dombrowski is the embodiment of a Jesuit education at its finest," Father Sundborg wrote to the campus community. "Professor Dombrowski," Sundborg continued, "brings a wisdom and warmth to all facets of his work. He is a true gift to our Department of Philosophy, College of Arts and Sciences and university at large." 

Dombrowski arrived at SU in 1988 after serving on the faculty of other sister Jesuit schools, St. Joseph's and Creighton. To date he has authored 18 books (and is currently working on a 19th) as well as more than 170 articles and 70 book reviews in leading scholarly journals. His main areas of intellectual interest are the history of philosophy, philosophy of religion and ethics, especially animal rights. 

Dombrowski has lectured widely, including an address he gave last fall before the European Union Parliament, and holds, among others, the distinction of having an entire conference (sponsored by the American Journal of Theology and Philosophy ) devoted to scholarly analysis of his thought. He has served on the editorial boards of a number of journals and boards of professional associations and societies throughout the nation and world. 

"This is a great honor for one of the university's most outstanding scholars," David Powers, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said of Dombrowski being named the McGoldrick Fellow. "He has also really given of himself in service to the college and the university in a number of ways, leading a number of very important committees including the College Rank and Tenure Committee and the Undergraduate Strategic Enrollment Planning Committee. He also served as a Department Chair for Political Science even though he is a Philosopher. He is a truly amazing person and a great contributor."

The Commons recently caught up with the Philadelphia native (and former student-athlete at the University of Maine). Here are some excerpts from the interview. 

The Commons: How did you get the news that you were being named the 2016-2017 McGoldrick Fellow? 

Dan Dombrowski: I got called into Father Steve's office. He said it was positive so I knew it wasn't a getting-called-into-the-principal's-office kind of thing(laughs)

The Commons: What was your reaction? 

Dombrowski:  I was very happy. I've been a student (Saint Louis University) or a teacher at Jesuit schools for about 42 years, so obviously it meant a lot to me. 

The Commons: What brought you to Seattle University 28 years ago? 

Dan Dombrowski: I was tenured at Creighton, another Jesuit school, but I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in the Midwest. I wanted to stay in Catholic education and was looking for a school with easy access to hiking trails. So you put those two variables together and Seattle U is perfect. It's a weird combo, I know. 

The Commons: So, 28 years later, what do you value most about SU? 

Dombrowski:  I like liberal arts education that also takes seriously the history of religion and religious questions. A lot of liberal arts education is very good but completely skips over the Medieval period and anything having to do with religion. 

The Commons: When did you know you wanted to be a philosophy professor? 

Dombrowski:  I took an ethics class as an undergraduate at the University of Maine and within just one hour, I knew that was what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I've been pretty lucky-pretty early on I figured out what I wanted to do and I never looked back. It's been a really good choice because I really like what I do-teaching and scholarship. And going to the gym (laughs) . So it's been a good life for me. 

The Commons: What do you like about teaching at Seattle U? 

Dombrowski:  I like the fact that, no matter what major a student has, they are exposed to some of the greatest minds in the history of philosophy. So they'll hear about Aristotle and Kant. I appreciate the fact that we're in an institution that sees the value in exposing people, no matter what their major, to philosophy. 

The Commons: You're such a prolific scholar and yet you maintain just as much of a commitment to teaching. How do you do it? 

Dombrowski:  I don't have much to say there. You wake up early and you go to bed late (laughs). I enjoy doing both and I never feel burdened one way or another. I wouldn't want to be at a school where you're just paid to do research and teaching is second. Nor would I want to be at a place where you're so overburdened with teaching that there would be no time for research. 

The Commons: Of all the books and other scholarly works you've completed, which has been the most satisfying? 

Dombrowski:  It's hard to say. I did something that was published by Cambridge University Press on the ontological argument. 

The Commons: Which was the most difficult? 

Dombrowski:  That's a good question. I tend to work on them over a long period of time. Like I did one thing on contemporary sport and ancient ideals that I worked on for over 30 years. It wasn't that it was especially hard-it just took time to fill in all the pieces and do the requisite reading and research. 

The Commons: What's book #19 about? 

Dombrowski: I'm working on a manuscript on a (British) philosopher named Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). He was a great philosopher and also one of the major mathematicians of the early 20th century. I'm working on his metaphysics and concept of God.