Highlighting Adjunct Faculty

Adjunct Faculty Interview - Tyler Hower, Adjunct Instructor, Philosophy

Tyler Hower is an adjunct instructor in the Department of Philosophy. His perspective on connecting with and engaging students in an ongoing process of exploration will likely resonate with many of us and remind us of the potential enlightenment that our students bring to our own continued examination of our fields.

Hi Tyler, tell me about your connection to teaching here at University of San Diego.

I think I bring an appreciation for the value of a Catholic education to my teaching and interaction with students. I went to a Catholic university myself and there’s so much about the educational tradition that I think can contribute to the formation of intellectually grounded and curious students. I don’t know that I always or often succeed, but I think of good teaching as getting students to think through a problem with me. Since philosophy can often be more about the question than the answer, I’m doing a good job if I can get students to begin to see why some “common sense” beliefs or stances might be open to questioning. I want to get them to step away from what they think they know for a moment and ask, “Why?”

What was the pathway of your curiosity that led you to the field of philosophy?

When I was in high school, I already thought I wanted to major in philosophy and then go to seminary afterwards. One of my English teachers arranged for me to take classes at the local college. My first introductory class had me hooked on philosophy for its own sake. By the time I got to university the next year, I didn’t have any doubt that philosophy was what I wanted to do. That love only grew through those four years.

How do you relate that perspective to your students?

One of the most important attributes of a professor, at least in the humanities, is an openness to seeing students as collaborators. I always think of something Alasdair MacIntyre told me when I was a student; he said that he loved teaching undergrads because they come at problems uncorrupted by graduate school or received doctrines, so that they can often offer both novel perspectives and novel answers to questions. Every semester, in both introductory classes and upper-division classes for majors, students surprise me with their takes on issues I’ve been thinking about for twenty-five years. I learn from them sometimes as much as they learn from me. And, I think students can see when you have that kind of openness.

Philosophy is, or should be, a naturally collaborative discipline. It’s a conversation and I try—do I succeed?—to get all of us involved in that conversation. . I also try to communicate that I don’t always know the answers. I’m in the same game as them; I’ve just been in it a little longer.

I think you must succeed at that because this past spring you were invited to speak at the “Last Lecture Series” for Mortar Board. What are some of the insights that you shared?

Just the fact that a number of students were interested in hearing what I had to say about big life sort of questions made me—makes me—very proud, even as it’s humbling. Students need to know that they don’t have to have things figured out. There’s a lot of pressure to get through school and start “life.” It’s important that they realize that they have a lot of life ahead of them. Knowing everything and having a set plan isn’t necessary at twenty-two. That also means that, as much as they can, they should appreciate this time they have between their earlier schooling and the rigors of later life. Even for those students who are already fully enmeshed in the working world, they should see their classes and their colleagues and their conversations as a little bit of a respite. You don’t get to spend a lot of time in life asking and exploring the way you can at a university.

Are there any insights you would share with your fellow adjunct faculty?

Adjuncts should know that we make a difference. When I gave my Last Lecture, a student came up after and told me she had come to one of my classes as a prospective student and that helped settle her on USD. I regularly talk to and see students that I had in some introductory class, often one I thought I was boring them in, and they’ll tell me it made an impact. It’s not always easy to see, but we have an effect on lives.

How can we all tap the philosopher in each of us?

All of us can do philosophy and we do it quite a bit in non-academic settings. Of course, now it is an academic discipline, but it’s a deeper intellectual and life discipline of questioning and exploring our beliefs and lives. That’s there for all of us, whether we ever remember any bits of Descartes or Wittgenstein or the fine points of Leibniz’ Monadology. Socrates got at least one thing right: We all have a duty to examine our lives and know ourselves.