June 7, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 18

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    Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law & Ethics

    By Arthur Fournier
    News Office

    “I was very moved,” said Martha Nussbaum of her reaction to receiving a 2001 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching. “It moved me more than any other award I’ve received, because it is about doing things for others.”

    Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law & Ethics in the Law School, Philosophy and the Divinity School, has served on the faculty at the University for six years. The core of her graduate teaching is in Philosophy.

    With interests that span multiple disciplines, Nussbaum sometimes finds she has to measure her investments. “There are, of course, conflicts about the use of time,” she said, “but I would say that among the many things I do in the University, research and teaching would be at the top of the list.”

    Of her own experience as a graduate student, Nussbaum recalled that the late art historian Emily Vermeule was a source of courage. Vermeule, who taught Nussbaum as an undergraduate at Wellesley College and later at Harvard University, provided invaluable support. “It was important to me to see a woman in a position of influence at Harvard,” she said. “The Harvard environment was extremely discouraging so far as the prospect of success for women was concerned.”

    For the past few years, under Nussbaum’s tenure as jobs placement officer, the Philosophy Department has had a nearly perfect record in its placements of new Ph.Ds. “This is something that all philosophy departments with good graduate programs do, but we take it more seriously than many,” she explained. She helps the students prepare for the job market in a number of ways, from advising them on the writing of their curricula vitae, to arranging mock interviews.

    “I also am a great believer in moral support, so I take the job candidates out to dinner once in the fall and once just before job meetings to give them a sense that we care about them and to get them to relax a bit,” she said.

    Students in Philosophy understandably appreciate her work on behalf of their career success, but they also admire Nussbaum for her extraordinary commitment to the world of ideas. “She believes sound philosophical reasoning can do good in the world,” explained Chad Flanders, a graduate student in the department. “That means she takes ideas very seriously, which encourages her students to do so, as well.”