Five questions for Alastair Norcross

CU Boulder philosophy professor leads Faculty Council into new academic year

Five questions for Alastair Norcross
Faculty Council Chair Alastair Norcross is an avid runner.

Philosophy professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at CU Boulder, Alastair Norcross today will lead his first meeting as chair of the systemwide Faculty Council, the governance group comprising faculty representatives from the four campuses. He was elected in April; Vice Chair Jorge Chavez and Secretary Vicki Grove will join him on this year’s slate of leaders.

Among Norcross’ roles on campus is director of the Center for Values and Social Policy, which hosts series of talks that are open to the community and hosts visiting scholars who work with Philosophy Department faculty and graduate students. The center also helps coordinate the annual Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, which brings scholars from all over the world to Boulder to give presentations on ethics and political philosophy.

Until July, Norcross was director of CU Boulder’s Philosophy, Arts, and Culture Residential Academic Program (RAP), formerly Farrand RAP, which recently was discontinued.

“This is a great loss to the students and the university,” said Norcross, who laments declining support for RAPs. “The Residential Academic Programs are one of the best features of CU Boulder. RAPs build a great sense of community, and have been shown to promote retention, especially among students from traditionally underrepresented groups.”

1. How did you first arrive at CU Boulder?

I taught in Texas for 15 years: 10 years at Southern Methodist University, and five years at Rice University. While I was at Rice, I was approached by the Philosophy Department at CU Boulder, and invited to apply for a tenured position here.

I had never visited Colorado, and knew pretty much nothing about Boulder, beyond the facts that it was home to Mork and Mindy and was where all the good people went after the plague wiped out most of the population in Stephen King’s “The Stand” (the bad people went to Las Vegas!). But as soon as I first set eyes on Boulder, I knew I had to move here. Anyone who has ever spent any time in Houston will understand my desire.

2. How do you define shared governance, and how did you get involved with Faculty Council?

Faculty and Administration cooperate in crafting policies and making meaningful decisions (subject to Regent approval) that affect the running of the university. Faculty take the lead and have primary responsibility for certain areas of policy and decision-making (those most closely associated with the academic and pedagogical mission of the university), while the Administration take the lead in matters of internal organization and fiscal policy, but in all cases both Faculty and Administration work together. The rough division of responsibility is spelled out in the Laws and Policies of the Regents (Article 5).

I have been involved with faculty governance at CU for over 10 years. First with the Arts and Sciences Council (ASC, since changed to ASFS) and then with Boulder Faculty Assembly (BFA). I was chair of the BFA Faculty Affairs Committee for six years, which put me on the BFA Executive Committee, then a member-at-large of the BFA Executive Committee, and then (and now) Vice Chair of BFA. BFA asked me to serve on Faculty Council, too, a couple of years ago, both in the EPUS Committee and on the Council itself. Last year, the BFA Chair asked me to consider running for Faculty Council Chair, because Boulder was next up in the customary rotation.

3. What priorities do you expect Faculty Council to address this coming year?

I expect FC to play a large role in the university’s efforts to increase diversity of all kinds and at all levels in the university community. I also expect us to continue to advocate for faculty control of the curriculum, and to continue to protect academic freedom in all its guises. I expect us to continue to advocate for the interests of all faculty, but especially of those faculty with the least power and privilege. And I expect us to continue to press for transparency in decision-making.

4. What’s the current focus of your teaching and research?

Both my teaching and research is divided between, on the one hand, quite abstract theoretical issues in ethics (what philosophers usually call ‘metaethics’), mostly having to do with articulating and defending my own version of utilitarianism, and, on the other hand, the very practical applied issue of how humans treat other animals. I have written quite a lot in both areas, but my most-read piece is an article arguing against the consumption of meat and other animal products. Humanity’s treatment of other animals dwarfs in monstrosity its treatment of other humans.

Five questions for Alastair Norcross
Norcross at the Bolder Boulder.

5. How do you enjoy spending free time?

I run quite a lot (marathons, half marathons, shorter distances) with my wife. We are members of a great running group, Revolution Running, and have been for the past 14 years.

Five questions for Alastair Norcross
Norcross as Shakespeare in a show he wrote with his wife, who played Anne Hathaway.

We are also heavily involved in a local theater group, the Rocky Mountain Revels, which puts on a show around Christmas/Winter Solstice every year, involving singing, dancing and storytelling, and celebrating a different culture each year. I am the Stage Director, writer and one of the actors. I don’t usually sing, but I was persuaded to in last year’s show (a French-Canadian story), because we had a traditional French drinking song that I grew up singing with my siblings in the back of the car on long journeys to stop us killing each other.

Five questions for Alastair Norcross
Norcross in a theater production as an Irish poet.

I also read a lot of detective fiction, and watch too much television (“Succession” was, perhaps, the best television show of all time).