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April 19, 2007

Eclectic interests pull retiring professor

After 37 years at Pitt, Gerald Massey is retiring as Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy. If he’s being put out to pasture, it’s only because he wants to be.

While he’s been semi-retired for several years, Massey has decided that now is the time to refocus his attention on his eclectic interests — among them his 70-acre horse farm in Mercer County.

Massey is non-standard in the ranks of the department, observed colleague Nicholas Rescher. “Most of us are town mice,” Rescher said, adding that Massey is the country mouse among them — and not underfoot much, given his division of time between the horses and the University.

“I have many interests,” Massey said. “Some I want to pursue more avidly.” Among his loves are his Morgan horses and sailing.

“I want to do more writing,” he said, adding that he plans no end to his scholarly pursuits.

To dispel any doubt, a brief note posted on his web site ( states that “although he is retiring from teaching, he is retiring neither from the pursuit of philosophical truth nor from his many other interests. As Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, Dr. Massey intends to be as intellectually active as he has ever been.”

In addition to continuing his philosophical research, Massey’s plans include several books. He intends to pair his poetry (samples of which appear on his web site) with paintings done by a Tulane art history professor in a new book. He also envisions writing a memoir made up of a collection of stories from his days as a Marine and in academia. Massey said he plans never to teach again, preferring to help students develop their ideas or to assist with dissertations rather than to grade their classroom work.

He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, financing his studies with a Navy ROTC scholarship that earned him a commission in the Marine Corps. After three years in the Marines, he earned master’s and PhD degrees at Princeton.

He came to Pitt in 1969 as an Andrew Mellon postdoctoral fellow after seven years teaching in the philosophy department at Michigan State.

Rescher recalled that Massey first came as a visitor. “We liked him, he liked us.” And so he stayed.

In 1970 Massey was appointed professor of philosophy, chair of the department and a senior fellow of Pitt’s Center for Philosophy of Science. He chaired the department through 1977. In 1971 he also was appointed a professor of history and philosophy of science.

Rescher credited Massey for chairing the philosophy department during a chaotic time made more uneasy by the generalized unrest in academia in the days of Vietnam-era student protests. “There was lots of difficulty in running an academic department at the time,” Rescher recalled. Massey “put the department on a profitable course,” restoring morale and enabling the department to recruit both good students and good faculty, Rescher said.

Looking back, Massey quipped, “I guess they thought as a former Marine officer, I’d pull the department together.”

From 1985 to 1988 Massey served as an associate director of Pitt’s Center for Philosophy of Science and then directed the center from 1988 to 1997.

As director, Massey said, he emphasized international collaboration, expanding the department’s global reach. In 1997, Massey was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his contributions to German-American academic and philosophical cooperation.

He has lectured recently in Turkey and Serbia, viewing lecturing abroad as part of his job as a senior member of the department — both to promote philosophy and Pitt’s department throughout the world. His international work will continue: Massey has been named co-director of a series of conferences and courses to be held at the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik, Croatia, over the next few years.

Outside the philosophy department, Massey served as University Senate president in 1976-77. And on special short-term assignment in 1984 as associate dean of Arts and Sciences, he drew up the long-range plan for the unit.

He was named Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy in 1992.

During his nearly four decades at Pitt, he has seen many changes.

Having chaired an American Philosophical Association committee on unionization and collective bargaining, he saw several attempts to unionize faculty at Pitt, and argued against them. Looking back, he hasn’t changed his view.

“I didn’t think Pitt was the kind of place where a union would be good,” he said. In comments during a 1995 unionization effort, he argued that unionization would solve no existing problems and would add new ones, eventually forcing faculty to strike. (See Oct. 26, 2005 University Times.)

He’s seen less activism and involvement both in young faculty and in students, he said. “Young faculty members don’t seem so involved beyond the department,” he said, theorizing that the trend may have some roots in societal change. Massey, 73 and the father of four grown children, recalls as a boy having to do more for himself. Even in organizing a baseball game, getting the players, equipment and umpires together was the job of the participants themselves. “Nowadays, parents and organizations do that for kids,” leading, he said, to a “‘Someone else is going to do it for you’ ethos.”

He also sees students as more apathetic politically, viewing it as traceable to the all-volunteer military. “It’s not that students of the 1960s were more concerned about the welfare of the country,” he said. “People were as self-centered as students are now.” But, while Vietnam meant students were being called to fight, today’s students don’t have similar worries with regard to Iraq or Afghanistan. “They’re immune to being called up,” he said. In short, the current war is not impacting them the way war impacted the Vietnam generation.

An April 26 “MasseyFest” has been organized to mark his career at the University. Rescher, who organized the event, said the mini-conference emphasizes areas of interest to Massey. A reception celebrating his time at Pitt will follow.

Massey said he’s begun to look forward to the celebration even more than he anticipated he would. The announcement of his retirement has brought greetings from colleagues around the world, he said.

The event begins at 1:30 p.m. with a scholarly program featuring talks by colleagues Nuel Belnap, James Lennox and John Norton, followed by a reception at 5:15 p.m., at which Provost James V. Maher will preside over an array of colleagues who will comment on Massey’s years of service to the University as well as to the American Philosophical Association.

More information on the event is available by calling 412/687-2735.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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