Mashburn Class

Q&A with UM Philosophy Professor T. J. Mashburn

Kathy DeanFaculty Q&A, News, Sciences

The most important reason one should study philosophy is this: it asks all of the big questions and even attempts to provide answers. Answers, however, are not its strength, says Dr. Ted Mashburn, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Mobile.

“A great question is better than a great answer because questions keep thinking going, while answers tend to mitigate thinking. Thinking provides food for the mind,” Mashburn says.

From “Introduction to Philosophy” to “God, Evil, and Suffering,” Dr. Mashburn’s classes challenge students to ask the big questions. It makes for a high-energy environment – “I love all my classes because I love great books, great ideas and non-comatose students,” Mashburn says with a smile.

We asked UM’s popular humanities professor why he has taught at this Christ-centered university over 36 years, and how the Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy prepares graduates to succeed anywhere.

Q: Why should someone choose to study Philosophy?

A: The study of philosophy is about thinking…critical thinking, thinking that continues to question until answers are found or it is found that answers elude us…for the present. Critical thinking is a major component of our modern world. Companies will hire employees and will train them to do certain jobs. What companies can’t or seldom are able to do is to teach employees how to think…think critically, creatively, and comprehensively. That is what college, in general, and philosophy, in particular, are designed to do. So, if you are interested in a job/career, philosophy can help prepare you.

Q: What do you like most about the University of Mobile?

A: The people. People who work at UM love to help others; they go out of their way to do that very thing. I have been the recipient of such help on many, many occasions. I would like to think that I offer it also. That is the culture of this institution.

Q: We say UM is a place where students can “Know and Be Known.” What does that mean to you?

A: Knowing, to me, is about coming to understand who we are in relation to God, others and the world. This “self-knowledge” is fundamental, because knowing our strengths, weaknesses, aspirations and faith prepares us for life.

Q: What does “Higher Education for a Higher Purpose” mean to you?

A: At UM, we attempt to address the whole person, the mental, physical and spiritual elements that make up human nature. Our mission is not just about academic and professional preparation, it is also about addressing the spiritual “itch” that is within us all.

Q: What is something you are passionate about?

A: I’m passionate about life…and not just my life; I’m really interested in the lives of others…what people think, believe and are doing with their lives. One of my greatest joys is to see students develop. I want them all to find themselves and their callings in life. That is not easy and sometimes wrong turns are taken, failure happens and revision is required. That, by the way, is not necessarily bad…it is life. I’m happy to be a part of that and to engage students on that journey. 

Q: Outside of class, what are some of your interests?

A: Tennis, basketball, football…I’m a sports nut. I learned discipline from sports and that discipline carried over to the classroom and took me through graduate school.

Q: You mentioned grad school. What is your educational background?

A: Oxford University, Doctor of Philosophy; Edinburgh University, Master of Theology; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity; and Livingston University (now University of West Alabama) Bachelor of Arts. I stayed in academics as a student for a long time. Why? Because I love it!!!……still do. That is why I never left.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A. Try harder things…and go easy on yourself. We are not as bad as we think and probably not as good as we hope. God loves and accepts us even before we love and accept God. That, by the way, is my understanding of the gospel.