Philosophy professor talks of past experiences

By Greg Laudani
On April 29, 2014

  • Eighty-five year old philosophy professor, Duane Whittier, reminisces about his time as a UNH student, TNH music critic and philosophy professor. Greg Laudani/Staff

Longtime philosophy professor Duane Whittier was quite used to meatloaf and mashed potatoes in his time studying at the University of New Hampshire. It was one of the few dinner options available when he arrived to Durham in 1946. 

Meatloaf and mashed potatoes were a typical 1940s dinner at Huddleston Hall, UNH's dining hall nearly 40 years before Holloway Commons was built in 2003. 

Huddleston was not open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. like HoCo is. The former dining hall was only open two hours for breakfast, two hours for lunch and two hours for dinner. 

"You didn't serve yourself," Whittier said. "The people working at the dining hall would just throw the food on your plate."

Now the 85-year-old professor can be seen sitting near HoCo's Sizzle Bar - one of the dining hall's popular food stations. Whittier takes full advantage of the vastly improved food since his days eating meatloaf. 

"This place is Club Med for students," the professor said, speaking of the current fortune he has with food he calls "fantastic."

Whittier buys 150 meal-swipes every semester and buys more "the minute" he runs out. Whether it is at HoCo or Philbrook, he eats all of his meals on campus. 

Many students see Whittier but do not know anything about the professor; they are interested in finding out more about him. 

"I don't think many people know who he is when they see him, but a lot of us recognize him from seeing him so often," freshman Miranda Claar said. 

After growing up in Lebanon, N.H., Whittier earned his undergraduate degree in psychology at UNH in 1950.  He went on to receive his master's and Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1952 and 1961, respectively. 

He returned home to New Hampshire in 1967 after teaching at both Penn State and University of Illinois and has not left since. Now nearing the end of his 47th year teaching at UNH, the professor marches to the beat of his own drum. 

Whittier does not own a television. Defying the popular culture of being entertained by a flashing screen, he has yet to convert. 

If he happens to be near a TV, Whittier will only watch either the History Channel or Military Channel (now the American Heroes Channel). But he claims he has seen most of the programs multiple times and that the same episodes are "recycled," or repeated over and over. 

"Television is boring," Whittier said. "Some of it is stupid, but a lot of it is boring." 

The professor does not spend time watching reality shows or SportsCenter. He lives and breathes philosophy. Whether it is reading philosophy books or writing about his own beliefs, Whittier keeps a narrow focus on his work.

"I do philosophy 14 hours a day, seven days a week," Whittier said. "I'm addicted to it." 

His passion for reading began while growing up in Lebanon. As a kid, Whittier would ride his bike seven miles from Lebanon to Hanover, the site of Dartmouth College. And after his father gave him a membership card to Dartmouth's library, Whittier said he would fill both baskets of his bike with "loads of books." 

The professor has loved reading ever since. To go along with his passion for reading, teaching at UNH has developed another one of Whittier's interests: music. 

Although students would not have seen Whittier at the Nelly concert, the long-time professor enjoys going to on-campus concerts every week. 

"One of the things I am most impressed with here is the quality of music that the students make," Whittier said. "Outstanding."

He said he enjoys watching concerts by students' jazz bands, symphony orchestra, concert bands and choir concerts among others. The professor's love of current students' music goes back to his time as a Wildcat. 

Whittier was the music critic for The New Hampshire when he was an undergraduate. Reviewing student concerts that he continued to attend years later, he was the only person to ever hold such a position at the student newspaper. 

More aspects of Whittier's life stand out against some of today's modern students. 'Thirsty Thursday' did not exist when he attended UNH. Whittier followed a six-day a week schedule with only Sundays off. 

Nearly half of his peers attended UNH under the GI Bill, which gave returning World War II veterans the opportunity to go to college. Their adverse experience in combat made many of them mature students. 

"There was no horsing around," Whittier said. "It was a chem-free campus back then." 

Approaching his 58th year of college teaching in total, many of his former colleagues question why Whittier has not retired yet. The answer is simple - the man loves teaching and he loves UNH. 

"God has blessed me," Whittier said. "I have been paid a salary to do my hobby all my life long." 

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