Retiring After Nearly 60 years of Teaching Here and Elsewhere

Tuesday, April 26, 2016
photo of Duane Whittier

In September of 1946, Professor Duane Whittier was a freshman here at UNH. He was one of the very first occupants of Engelhardt Hall. His first 2 weeks of his freshmen year he spent sleeping on the gym floor of New Hampshire Hall, because Engelhardt had not yet been finished in time for occupancy.

Duane had a writing class with Professor Carrol Towle along with Don Murray as a fellow student! Murray was in the class of 1949, Whittier two years behind in the class of 1950. Professor Whittier says it was a unique experience to be in college right out of high school, but to have fellow students who were veterans from World War II and on the G.I. Bill. The young associated with the more mature!

Duane had two influential teachers: Professor George Haslerud of the psychology department and Donald Babcock, UNH's lone philosopher. They both encouraged Duane to go on to graduate school. Under the influence of Professor Haslerud, Duane started graduate studies in experimental psychology, but later he switched to philosophy before joining the US Air Force in the Korean War.

Professor Haslerud's research specialty was the study of transfer of learning from one task to another. Duane took this to heart in his teaching style. The German theologian, Karl Barth, used to say that one should preach with the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other. Duane adopted this format – philosophy text on the one hand and connections to current, daily world events on the other. RELEVANCE! Transfer of learning does not occur automatically. It must have a catalyst.

Duane has taught philosophy for 58 years – 4 years at the University of Illinois, 5 years at Penn State before coming home to NH for 49 years here. He would have liked to make that 50 years, but his health would not allow that.

Professor Robert Scharff, as a sophomore at the University of Illinois, took his very first philosophy course from Duane Whittier in Duane's first year of teaching. Scharff retired last year – 1 year before Whittier, his first teacher. Duane says what an odd feeling this gives one – to retire AFTER the student you started in philosophy!

Bob Scharff had much to say in praise of Duane, but perhaps his most central point: "What Duane 'taught' me in that first course is that good philosophy, for all its jargon and fancy arguments and ambitious topics, ultimately deserves to be conveyed straightforwardly, with as few frills as possible." And that's how Duane taught.