Utah Professor of the Year
The late-19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Formula of my happiness: a Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal.”
Westminster’s Dr. Nicholas More, associate professor of philosophy, has been living that formula for some time now: he found a job he loves and has been pursuing his goal of perpetual learning at the college for the past 15 years. Nick had his intellectual epiphany as an undergraduate at Notre Dame, when he realized that his philosophy professor loved what he was doing and was getting paid to do it.
“I was in a seminar with the best professor I ever had, and we were discussing some intricate philosophical idea,” he recalls. “Then it came to me that he got to learn all of his life, and that that was his job: he was being paid to learn and discuss these intriguing ideas.” That led Nick to pursue a PhD in philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where he wrote his dissertation on Nietzsche.
Known for his passion for teaching and desire for constant improvement in the classroom, he was selected for Westminster’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 2007, an honor annually bestowed upon one faculty member. More recently, he received another prestigious accolade—Utah Professor of the Year—from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The US Professor of the Year Program is the only national initiative specifically designed to acknowledge excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
The normally shy More didn’t want Dean Mary Jane Chase of the School of Arts and Sciences to nominate him as Utah Professor of the Year, and he’s not really enjoying the attention he has received since receiving his award. But he is “okay” with the recognition.
“Whether or not someone says I’m good at teaching doesn’t affect what I control: striving to be good at teaching,” he says. “My passion for teaching is actually a thinly disguised passion for learning: teaching is a joy for me because there’s so much I don’t know.”
His tenure at Westminster began almost by chance. After moving to Salt Lake in the summer of 1992 while finishing his dissertation, he rented a house on 1700 South near, what he came to learn, was a small college. One summer day, he entered Foster Hall and asked if the college had a philosophy department. Luckily, professor of philosophy Michael Popich was in his office that day. They talked, and Dr. Popich told Nick to call him later in the fall about the spring semester.
In spring 1993, Nick taught his first class as an instructor and loved it. As he put the finishing touches on his dissertation in spring 1995, a position in the philosophy department opened for the 1995–1996 academic year. He placed himself in the national search while teaching a full load and was selected at the end of the search.
Nick has taught more than 20 different courses at Westminster. He especially enjoys those that are team taught in the honor’s program because they require him to read and learn what the other professor (in another discipline) has assigned. As a teacher, he strives to be as good as the professor who inspired him at Notre Dame, Mark Jordan, now teaching at Harvard. “He’s my model for bringing out good questions and discussion. He never lectured: it was a mutual exploration of the topic.”
He rails at those who feel it is the professor’s sole responsibility to ensure the success of a class. “That’s ridiculous,” he says. “Students should feel bad if they’re not contributing, because they have as much to do with making it a good class as I do.”
Another bête noire is the so-called “helicopter” parent who hovers over college-aged children. “I think this undercuts one of the chief purposes of college: learning how to think things through.” He believes that relying on parents for every decision delays the process of genuine maturity and independence.
“I’m really trying to teach people how to think for themselves,” he explains, “and philosophy is one of the best ways to do that. It’s flexible training for life and for any career that values logical thinking, clear writing, and original approaches to problem-solving…more and more employers are realizing that they want thinkers, not robots.”
“Each generation needs to re-address the questions of value, truth, and meaning, because philosophical thinking structures how we see the world and the goals we pursue,” he adds. “These questions are explored anew by every culture and by individuals as they’re growing up, so I’m like a mortician: I’ll never run out of work to do.” Did we mention Nick’s sardonic sense of humor?
When not philosophizing, Nick loves music, playing squash, and dark chocolate. A great admirer of modernist Russian composers, he lists Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky among his favorites.
But he’s always ready to listen to new ideas and pursue them in a classroom: “Because life is learning,” Nick concludes, “and teaching is living it twice.”