Chancellor Doug Kristensen

University of Nebraska at Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen today announced a $500,000 anonymous gift to establish the O.K. Bouwsma Chair in Philosophy and the approval for a new bachelor of arts degree in philosophy.

“The new degree is effective immediately,” Chancellor Kristensen said. “Students can declare a major now.”

The philosophy program was established in 1986. Since that time, students have been able to earn a minor in philosophy, but not a major. The approval of the new degree by the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary
Education gives access to a philosophy degree in central and western Nebraska.

“The Coordinating Commission should be commended for recognizing the need for this fundamental major at UNK, a public institution with multiple full-time philosophy faculty, Chancellor Kristensen said. “Offering a philosophy major will not require any additional faculty or courses. The necessary courses and the faculty members are in place.”

“We’ve had students wanting a major for many years,” said Dr. David Rozema, who directs the UNK philosophy program. “We’ve had 25 students who have taken 33 hours or more of philosophy credits and would have qualified for
a major in philosophy, if it had been available.”

One of those former students is UNK alumna Kael Sagheer of Omaha, who received the prestigious Milken National Educators Award in 2002.

In testimony before the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, Sagheer said of her experience in UNK philosophy classes: “By reading texts such as The Brothers Karamazov, The Republic and Summa Theologica, to name a few, Drs. Fendt, Martin and Rozema helped teach me the most important lesson of my life: the difference between style and substance…to look beyond the obvious and evaluate the significance of a
person or event based on both action and intent. They taught me not only to ask ‘why’ but also how to search for the answer. It is this very thing that I try to pass on to my own students.

“For most, higher education is most often geared towards a career or job that will sustain them financially,” Sagheer added. “However, there are many majors that beg the question, ‘What are you going to do with that?’ How many
of those majors can boast the answer—‘Live more virtuously, live more wisely and live more responsibly?”

The Chair in Philosophy is named for O.K. Bouwsma who taught philosophy at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln from 1928 – 1968. After retiring at the age of 65, he was a professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Texas until his death in 1978 at the age of 79.

Among the stipulations in establishing the O.K. Bouwsma Chair in Philosophy is that the individual selected for the position “…teach in the manner of O.K. Bouwsma, commonly known as the Socratic mode of discourse” and “…be an outstanding teacher who uses primary works of philosophy and literature, especially Plato, Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein.”

The UNK philosophy program is described as a “great books program” in that students read and study the original sources rather than textbooks based on the original works. Students who have chosen an emphasis in philosophy have gone on to careers in law, medicine, government and literature as well as graduate programs in philosophy.

An earlier gift of $200,000 from an anonymous donor established O.K. Bouwsma Scholarships in the philosophy program. The scholarships are awarded annually in a competition. Students must submit a philosophical essay to be considered for an award. The essays are read, judged and ranked by members of the philosophy department. Scholarships are awarded to the top scholars.