Dean of the College Richard Feldman ended up at UR by chance.
He had no innate desire to work for the University, and credited his time here to the sequence of “fortuitous twists” he described last Thursday evening at Alpha Delta Phi’s (ADP) Last Lecture Series, presumably one of his final public speeches as dean before he steps down at the end of the semester.
The Last Lecture Series was inspired by Randy Pausch—a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University—who, when informed he was terminally ill with cancer, presented a “last lecture” before his retirement called, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”
Since Pausch’s passing in 2008, schools and organizations nationwide have held their own versions of the lecture, where speakers are usually asked to share what they would talk about if they could give only one more lecture before retiring.
Feldman spoke about how he “got here,” minus “the baseball player and firefighter stuff”—two of his childhood dream jobs.
During high school, Feldman said, he excelled in math and science, and was persuaded to apply to engineering colleges.
“I probably wasn’t quite that compliant, but I said okay,” said Feldman.
Several weeks into his freshman year of college, however, Feldman realized he no longer wanted to be an engineer.
“My friends in my residence hall were reading great books and thinking big ideas, and I was doing what felt to me like the same math and chemistry problems that I’d been doing in high school,” he said. “I just wasn’t taken with it.”
His solution? To switch majors, four times.
Feldman entertained physics and government majors before discovering his true passion during his junior year—philosophy.
“I thought it was the hardest and most interesting thing I ever encountered,” he told the small crowd at ADP.
Discovering philosophy was Feldman’s first turning point.
“I went through all those different disciplines, studied lots of different things, and ended up in something that I didn’t know existed when I started,” said Feldman. “It’s not following what you wanted from the beginning, but it’s being open to things and trying new ideas.”
His second turning point was working at UR.
After graduate school, Feldman applied to work at universities across the nation. He was a finalist at another “quite prestigious” university, but ultimately came in second for the job.
Shortly after, he was offered an interview at UR for a position in the Philosophy Department and got the job, though it began the following year.
“Another pretty extraordinary and fortuitous twist that kind of set things happened,” he said.
After six unexpected years as a philosophy professor, Feldman not only received tenure, but was asked to chair the department.
“It was something I never gave even a moment’s thought to, wasn’t something I particularly wanted to do,” he said.
Despite this, Feldman agreed.
And five years after that he was, again unexpectedly, asked to take over the role as Dean of the College, to which he had a similar reaction to when he was appointed chair.
“I didn’t ask to be dean, I didn’t want to be dean,” said Feldman. “As a loyal member of the College I agreed to do it.”
To his surprise, Feldman said, he loved being dean and working on behalf of students to make the college a better place.
“So if you think about all those things, the discipline I’m in, where I’m in, and then the kind of role I’ve had where I am, are all sort of these extraordinary coincidences none of which have anything to do with what I wanted to do earlier on.”