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Longtime Ethics in Society Champion Professor Eamonn Callan Retires

Picture of Stanford Professor Eamonn Callan
Aug 10 2020
Diana Aguilera

When Stanford Education Professor Emeritus Eamonn Callan arrived on campus in 1999, he admits his ego was rather more robust than it had been. At the same time, one thought often occupied his mind. Five years later, he shared this thought with incoming students at the Graduate School of Education.

“I wondered if I had just had an amazing stroke of luck, and they had hired the wrong Eamonn Callan,” he said, jokingly. “Maybe there was another guy with the same name whom they really wanted to hire, and they got me instead.”

His advice to students — be humble and confident. Lack of humility, he says, is often a disguise for lack of confidence. And most importantly, always welcome and value criticism.

Callan’s remarks say a lot about his knowledge and commitment to make Stanford and the world a better place. Callan, born in Dublin, Ireland, is a distinguished philosopher of education whose work draws heavily on contemporary moral and political theory. His principal interests are in civic and moral education, and in the application of theories of justice and democracy to problems in educational policy and practice. Beyond his teaching duties, he served in a variety of roles, notably as associate dean for Student Affairs at the Graduate School of Education and as chair of the Faculty Senate for the 2007-08 academic year. In 2006, Callan was appointed to an endowed chair: the Pigott Family Professorship in the School of Education.

What his credentials don’t show is the extraordinary breadth of his intellectual curiosity, his sturdy leadership qualities showing no fears of dissent to his views, and his irrepressible sense of humor.

Loyal Supporter of the Ethics Center

Officially and unofficially, Callan has been deeply involved with the Ethics Center. He served as the acting faculty director, as the undergraduate honors program director, as an advisor in our undergraduate honors program, as a member of our advisory board, and as an active contributor to our vibrant intellectual community.

“His critical insights on the works in progress of our postdocs, undergraduates, and of course of we, his colleagues, have been invaluable,” says Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences Debra Satz, former Ethics Center faculty director.

Even after a decade as colleagues, Satz says Callan is still unpredictable. “I never knew how he would respond to a philosophical argument, except that his response would be characteristically brilliant and eye-opening. He made a difference here; in so many ways, we have all benefited from his contributions.”

“While I very much appreciate his commitment to the Center and the undergraduate program, I am even more grateful for the friendship he offered me,” says Ethics Center Executive Director Joan Berry. “I will miss having ready access to his perspective.”

Callan’s brilliance, enthusiasm, and generosity made an indelible impression on his peers. His willingness to offer his time and attention to people — students, staff, and faculty — did not go unnoticed. He made significant contributions to the ethics community at Stanford and beyond. Including mentoring any student or postdoc who had an interest in education and ethics.

“He was always so curious about our work,” says postdoctoral fellow Matthew Adams. “I think it’s really inspiring to meet an academic who is curious and excited about all sorts of different things.”

In a coincidental twist of fate, Ethics Center Research Director Anne Newman first interacted with Callan as a graduate student at Stanford.

“Eamonn was my advisor as a grad student, and it’s been a serendipitous treat to get to work with him again at the Ethics Center,” she says. “I’ve learned so much from how he responds to others’ work with intellectual generosity that brings out the potential in lines of argument, and precision that makes them sharper. I will really miss having him in our workshops.”

Rob Reich, professor of political science and Ethics Center faculty director, says Callan provided a role model for a university citizen and a generous mentor.

“I was new on the faculty and through visits to his home, which he opened up to me, and many conversations about navigating academia, he helped me understand not merely how to be a good citizen, a good scholar but also a good person,” Reich says. “I wish him a wonderful retirement, and I want him to know he’s always welcomed back at the Center in any capacity.”

Callan technically retired in 2018. He was recalled for two years of service, which ends in the 2019-2020 academic year.

The Wooden Gavel

During Callan’s last meeting as chair of the 2007-2008 faculty senate, he received a surprise — in the form of a poem.

Professor Debra Satz rose from her seat and said, “On behalf of your senate colleagues, I want to thank you for your fair and judicious leadership of the 40th Faculty Senate. I’ve especially appreciated your heroic labors to raise the intellectual level of the senate, your efforts of reaching out to new senators and your all-too-rare ability to get to the heart of the matter with respect to reports and presentations. Now, in faithful deference to our tradition, I will attempt to pay you your due in verse.”

The recitation, interrupted several times by laughter from the audience, concluded with the following:

“No senator returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us bear those academic policies we have,

Than fly to others we know not of?

Thus, conscience does make filibusters of us all,

And thus the Irish hue of resolution

Is covered over with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of research ethics and justice,

With this regard, they turn to after-hours meetings,

And lose the name of Senate action.

Soft you now!

The fair kind Eamonn! Leader in thy orisons.”

Satz then presented Callan with a wooden gavel inscribed with his name.

“Use it well,” she said, smiling.

“Thank you so much,” he replied. And in line with his witty sense of humor, he added: “I’m not sure if Shakespeare has stopped revolving in his grave. But at least you didn’t do it to James Joyce.”






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