One of the best parts of your student experience at Hope College will be the faculty-student relationships you create with your professors. Both Cam and Adriana have interviewed one professor who has guided and shaped their time at Hope. Hear from Cam’s professor, Dr. Kevin Kambo, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, about what makes Hope College and Hope’s mission special.
What makes Hope unique to you?
I suppose it would be too easy to say the brutal winter? … Academically, Hope is more eclectic than any other institution I have been at. This presents unique opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, faculty have remarkable freedom to teach what they want, hence my GenEd course on the virtue of mercy and my philosophy courses on Platonism (fall) and Tragedy (spring); on the other hand, it’s difficult to know what background people have—a criminally high number of students haven’t even read Narnia. (Also scandalous: President Scogin is not a fan of Lord of the Rings.) That said, the freedom really is impressive: a couple of my courses were suggested by students interested in the topics, which is a fun sort of collaboration.
Why is a liberal arts education important?
This could be a whole lecture. Put briefly, it has little to do with ‘critical thinking’. As I like to point out, Satan (the Accuser) in the Book of Job, the sophists of ancient Athens and Iago in Othello are all critical thinkers—and all portraits of illiberal, i.e., enslaved, souls. To channel Lin-Manuel Miranda’s George Washington, critical thinking is easy; wisdom is harder.
A useful image is the Platonic distinction between apprenticeship and discipleship. Liberal education is not amassing a bunch of facts and skills in your utility belt like Batman; it’s about learning how to orient your soul, how to submit it to what makes you free. As such, it is a spiritual discipline that never ends and cannot be captured in a certification. Done right, it turns us into disciples, i.e., followers, of truth, goodness and beauty in a world filled with so many temptations to falsehood, evil and ugliness. Such devotion is learning how to seek the intellectual pearl of great price and, as Mad-Eye Moody knows, it requires constant vigilance. You do not ‘acquire’ it; you are initiated into it and exercise it in order to persevere in it.
What is your favorite way to connect with students?
Dear me, this sounds like something right out of a lonely-hearts column. Like any red-blooded professor, I connect over preferring the Odyssey to the Iliad, candle-lit readings of Plato’s Phaedrus and walks on the beach contemplating Augustine’s Trinitarian theology.
More seriously, I simply like getting to know my students, what they are interested in, what’s going on in their souls. Back in pre-Covid days, I tried to have a pretty intentional open-door policy and liked it when students dropped in just to say hello. I also often have office hours at LJ’s as a way to make things a little less stiff. And I participate in a couple of book clubs with students; these are less formal than class and easily more fun—in part because reading is apparently optional. Finally, I was talked into becoming the faculty advisor of the Spike Ball Club. Spica in Deo.
What are you most looking forward to in the 2020-2021 school year?
From outer-space: the sheer madness of everything. Covid, the protests, and the election make for a potent cocktail of potential chaos. But, I’m a Platonist, and for us there is something heroic about bringing order to the cosmos, and this will be a year for us at Hope to prove ourselves, as persons and as a community.
At ground-level: being in class again, in the flesh. The Great Covid Divorce we’ve endured since mid-March has been awful; I’m excited for us to be together again, even with all the attendant awkwardness.