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Professor of Philosophy Don Postema Retires

Professor of Philosophy Don Postema

Don Postema began teaching in Bethel’s philosophy department in 1978. His area of expertise is healthcare ethics and he’s been active in a variety of professional communities in his field. A few years ago, Postema was named the program director of medical bioethics for the HealthPartners health care organization with headquarters in Bloomington, Minnesota. He also chairs the HealthPartners Ethics Committee, serves as an ethics consultant at Regions Hospital in Saint Paul, and as an ethicist-in-residence at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in Saint Paul. In addition to teaching philosophy at Bethel, he also founded and facilitated Bethel’s Film Forum, organizing film showings and discussions afterwards for students and faculty. Here, Postema reflects on his 39 years at Bethel and shares what comes next.

What led you to Bethel, and what kept you here for almost 40 years?

When I was near the end of my doctoral work at Columbia University, then dean and later president George Brushaber actively recruited me to join the Bethel faculty. I was drawn to Bethel as an academic community in the Christian liberal arts tradition. Bethel’s Swedish Baptist heritage, most notably the irenic spirit coupled with respect for the life of the mind, was refreshing. My colleagues who have sustained their devotion to that tradition and to this community, along with curious, capable students, provided a supportive environment in which to teach and do philosophy.

What are some of your best memories of Bethel?

Those moments in class when the ideas under discussion “shingled together” in ways that manifested unexpected but delightful coherencies are memorable. Students who “caught the vision” and dug into the issues and material with gusto and grit, diligently following the traces of values and compassion. Regular sabbaticals that renewed and restored my love of learning and teaching. Never seeming to age when gauging myself by those perennially young adults in my classes.

Has anything surprised you about the liberal arts over that time?

That the liberal arts should now need defending in an era when such an education is sorely needed should not be surprising, but it is. The perennial question, “What can I do with a degree in the liberal arts?” is more evident in a time when its cost is significant, and should be answered with a robust vision of the personal and social value of such an education.

What will you miss the most?

The classroom has always been my favorite venue in that the presentation and discussion of ideas and values from multiple perspectives is invigorating. While this is still part of my work, the opportunity to develop relationships with students over a term or even longer is what most obviously marks the change in my life.

What comes next?

I phased my retirement from Bethel with accepting a full-time position with HealthPartners as program director for biomedical ethics. Since 1984, I had been the ethics consultant for Regions Hospital and chaired the HealthPartners Ethics Committee since 2000. My current position is an enhancement of that work now extended over the HealthPartners system, including six hospitals. My position as ethicist-in-residence at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare also continues. As long as I enjoy my work and see that it makes a difference for patients and healthcare professionals, it will remain one dimension of my life.

Do you see yourself staying connected to Bethel down the road?

Some of my best friends are my long-time colleagues in the art and literature departments, and I look forward to sustaining these connections. Former students seem to emerge in unexpected places and times, and I always delight in hearing of their current interests and memories of our times together.

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