Professor Larry Temkin gets a lot of emails starting something like this: “You won’t remember me, but you changed my life.”
“You Changed My Life”
Perhaps that’s not surprising for a professor with a bucket of teaching accolades, including multiple awards from alumni, peers, and the American Philosophical Association. Temkin, a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the School of Arts and Sciences in New Brunswick, teaches big moral and political issues—right and wrong, good and bad, virtue and vice—and expects a lot from his students. What’s more, Temkin isn’t simply an inspiring teacher, but a world-renowned philosopher. Viewed as a leading thinker about one of the key issues of our time—equality—Temkin has held visiting appointments at Oxford, Harvard, the National Humanities Center, and the Australian National University.
When you take a class or study with Larry (as he likes to be called), you’re in for a potentially life-changing ride, and that’s true whether you’re an undergraduate searching for the meaning of life or a Ph.D. candidate finalizing a dissertation and planning a career as an academic philosopher.
“Larry is a professor who can engage one student or 180 students—who makes a lecture hall a discussion and a seminar a debate.”
“Each and every class was inspirational, and in many ways he opened up a new intellectual world for me,” says Rebecca Wolitz, who graduated from Rutgers in 2007 and is now at Yale Law School.
Innovative, Original Thinking
“Professor Temkin challenged me to reflect deeply about the issues raised in class and to furthermore be innovative in my thinking,” says Wolitz. “The courses I took with Professor Temkin encouraged—and demanded—original work. He set exacting standards, and I have to say that rising to the challenge was both an extremely difficult yet incredibly rewarding experience.”
One student wrote to him about giving up his job as a corporate lawyer to work in the field of animal rights, citing Larry’s class as an inspiration for the career change. Other former students, now doctors, have noted how his teaching continues to influence them in tackling the ethical decisions and quandaries in their day-to-day professional lives. Larry’s classes and scholarship deal with fundamental questions, and those lessons can last a lifetime.
“The Best Learning Experience”
Larry aims high, even in an introductory class for undergraduates, such as “Contemporary Moral and Social Issues.” That class tackles current issues, from abortion to reverse discrimination, and it doesn’t dumb things down for students.
“I take the very best work, and I teach at a very high level,” he says. Students start with Kant and Mill—the real thing, rather than “some bubblegum version”—and are challenged to think on their own, rather than repeat the views they’ve gotten from parents and teachers. “For a lot of students, this is the first time they’ve been forced to really think hard about some of the most fundamental issues of our day.”
And the thinking doesn’t end when the class ends. Often, it lasts for a lifetime. “Your class was absolutely the best learning experience I ever had,” wrote one student in a recent email. “It has been a privilege learning from you.”