A Presidential “First-Year” Experience

J.T Henderson

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with our first-year President, Dr. Seamus Carey, to talk about his “first-year” experience and get to know him a little better. Here’s how part of our conversation went:

Me: What has been your most memorable experience at Transy so far?

President Carey: I don’t know that there’s one specific experience, but I would say that what’s been most satisfying to me is the quality of our students. They’re incredibly bright, engaging, creative, and I genuinely enjoy being with them, so that’s been a really nice experience for me so far.

Me: Could you talk about your first big initiative The 100 Doors to Success Mentor Program?

President Carey: Well the idea came from talking with alumni that I had met early on, and I realized how committed and engaged they were to the school. This told me that the education they got at Transylvania was a good one, and also many of them live right here in Lexington, so I thought what an opportunity it would be to get them together with our students to help students navigate towards an understanding of professional life. It frees students up to focus on their studies and focus on subjects that might be of interest to them but might not necessarily lead directly to a career.

Me: You have held numerous leadership positions throughout your academic career. What prompted you to take your first leadership experience and what was it like?

President Carey: I wasn’t really thinking about it quite honestly. I was at Manhattan College and the Dean came and asked me if I would consider chairing the philosophy department, so I did that for a while. Then after a few years colleagues asked me to apply for the dean’s job. I had no idea that that was something I wanted to do at the time, but people I respected asked me and so I started to think about it. I decided not to take the dean’s job when it was offered because I wanted to achieve the rank of full professor before I would think about it again. I did that and the opening at Sacred Heart came along, so I said I’d give it a shot. I don’t think there’s a big divide between being a college professor and being college administrator. The basic mission is the same. I see myself as a teacher and as a philosopher first. Those roles inform the way I approach administration.

Me: Did you have a professor, teacher, or other role model who encouraged you to get where you are today?

President Carey: I took my first philosophy class with Michael McCarthy at Vassar College as either a sophomore or junior. Then I took another one because he was such outstanding teacher and he was an incredible person. I got into teaching and philosophy was because I wanted to live like him. He was an incredibly inspiring person and so full of life. Transylvania University will meet him in the fall when he speaks at the inauguration.

Me: In a previous interview with the Rambler, you mentioned that you believe the liberal arts are more relevant now than ever. Could you elaborate on that?

President Carey: I think we need to be really cognizant of the needs of families and students to have an affordable education that prepares them in ways that they can go on and have success in their careers. That’s essential. But if you look around at society and the world at large, you don’t have to pay too close attention to see that we really do need educated people. We need people who understand that there are higher goods that come with deeper understanding of the human condition. If we don’t have an educated population, we’re always going to be stuck with people who are concerned only with the lower dimensions of the self. We all have them, we all need help in rising above them and education is the key to breaking cycles of destructive behavior.

Me: If you were a high school student applying to Transy, what would be the biggest influence on your decision?

President Carey: I would want to know quality of the education: “Are the faculty accessible to me?”, “What are the outcomes for graduates?” or in other words “Does this education actually work?”, and also “What would my life be like at Transylvania?” I would also want to consider the cost.

Me: You were a first-generation college graduate. Could you describe your experience? Did you have any struggles, and if so, how did you face them?

President Carey: I went to college with a very pragmatic point of view. Both of my parents were Irish immigrants so they didn’t have very much formal education at all, and so my goal in going to college was to get a better job. I was lucky that I got to go to a very good school, but I was completely out of place. The only thing that saved me was that I played basketball, so I had a built-in group of friends. Other than that I often felt insecure. I felt like everyone on the campus was smarter than me. It was often quite lonely and not always enjoyable except for the educational part. That part changed my life. I was in love with learning for the first time. Philosophy became something that I wanted to pursue, but the social aspect was tough. Being a basketball player, loving the education, having some faculty members that I became close with, and having a core group of friends made it possible to persevere.

Me: As an undergraduate, how did you choose your major? You graduated with a B.A. in Economics, so how did you become interested in Philosophy?

President Carey: To be honest, I didn’t know any better. I thought I would go to Wall Street, so economics was the best way to do that. It turns out I really enjoyed studying economics and loved working on my Senior Thesis, but along the way I became deeply interested in philosophy and that changed me. Even when I was graduating college, I still had a lot of self-doubt and never for a second imagined that I could be a professor of philosophy, but there was something inside me that pushed me to study this. I went to Ireland for a year to make up the undergraduate credits I didn’t have, so that I could think about going to graduate school. But when I came back, I still wasn’t convinced that I had the ability to be a professor, so I thought about going to Law school. I taught high school for a couple years, but philosophy kept calling me back. To this day when I read philosophy texts, it puts me in a different state of being; it just resonates with me.

Me: Do you have a favorite book and/or author?

President Carey: My favorite work of philosophy is “The Ethics” by Baruch Spinoza, but I also have a favorite contemporary philosopher, who has written a trilogy of books, and his name is David Michael Kleinberg-Levin.

Me: Do you have a favorite quote?

President Carey: I don’t carry a lot of quotes around in my head, but Socrates says in The Apology that, “[The person who is worth anything] has only one thing to consider in performing any action–that is, whether he is acting rightly or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one.” Socrates challenges the reader to consider that and that’s pretty important to answer for ourselves.

Me: If you could describe Transy in three words, how would you describe it?

President Carey: Community-driven inquiry. I think the faculty really does an outstanding job at maintaining a high level of inquiry and challenging students to achieve. The idea that communal inquiry drives us further and further towards achievement and a deeper understanding of things, I think, describes Transy well.

In conclusion, it was very enlightening to discuss the future of Transy with the person leading these positive initiatives to ensure that students are truly benefiting from the best Transylvania experience the university can offer. I look forward to President Carey’s inauguration this fall.