Remembering Nancy J. Holland

Dr. Nancy Holland, Professor of Philosophy Emerita at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, was born on September 3, 1947, and died peacefully January 25, 2020, two years after her cancer diagnosis. She said she was not in pain through her months of treatment. She kept reading, enjoyed time with her family and friends, and worked to outline two fantasy novels she didn’t live to finish. Nancy is survived by her husband Jeffery Koon, daughter Gwendolyn Koon, and son Justus Koon.

I met Nancy Holland during her interview at a Boston meeting of the American Philosophical Association in1980. She was one of nine candidates being interviewed for a position in the Philosophy Department at Hamline University. I was Chair of the department at that time and consequently chaired the hiring committee of two: my senior colleague, Joseph Uemura, and myself. The two of us constituted the department from 1976 through 1980 and were pleased to be authorized to hire a third philosopher, and for a tenure track position.

Our search process was for each of us to read half of the applicant dossiers, that is, we each read 151 files (we had 302 candidates in the fall of 1980, three-fourths of them fully qualified). We each kept a list of those we would like to interview at the upcoming APA meeting. We then swapped files and each of us read the other 151 dossiers. We compared lists. I think Joe came up with fifteen; I had twelve. We had nine candidates in common, so we interviewed them. With her BA from Stanford and PhD from UC Berkeley –her dissertation with Bert Dreyfus and involving John Searle—Nancy’s application quickly rose to the top. After interviews we invited our top three candidates for two-day campus visits. We offered the position to Dr. Holland. To our good fortune, she accepted our offer…and she stayed for thirty-six years.

Joe Uemura was an Aristotelian with interests in metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and the history of philosophy. My interests were Plato, ethics and aesthetics. We were looking to diversify the department. Nancy brought phenomenology, existentialism, deconstruction and feminism. Who could ask for more?

As it turns out, Nancy brought something else, something badly needed not only in the philosophy department but across the College of Liberal Arts as well. She brought a presumption that every academic anywhere must do serious scholarship, that is, present work at professional conferences, publish in refereed journals, work on books, all while teaching, advising, serving on committees, and, oh yes, raising a family. Her expectation of serious scholarship –for herself and every colleague on campus—may have been her greatest gift to the institution. She set the bar high. Her modeling of professional work beyond the campus supported, encouraged, and inspired so many of us that conference presentations, research, and published material of the college faculty grew quickly in quality and quantity.

Professor Holland’s major works include Heidegger and the Problem of Consciousness (2018), Ontological Humility: Lord Voldemort and the Philosophers (2013), Feminist Interpretations of Martin Heidegger (2001), The Madwoman’s Reason: The Concept of the Appropriate in Ethical Thought (1998), and Is Women’s Philosophy Possible (1990).

I could recite items from Nancy’s personnel file: her awards for teaching excellence and for scholarship, her service on faculty committees, often as Chair, her role in creating our women’s studies program and the importance of her leadership in developing our social justice major. And then there’s her professional leadership off campus with the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP), the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP), and the American Philosophical Association. Of course there’s more.

Rather than go further with professional accolades, let me say that Nancy was a superb colleague. She did whatever was needed in the department, and she did so at high quality, on time, and without complaint. Sure, Nancy was criticized along the way. Several faculty members rolled their eyes when she took the floor at faculty meetings to correct, and make more precise, minutes from previous meetings. In fact more than one faculty colleague took me aside asking me to counsel her to cease and desist on précising minutes; such behavior might impact a tenure committee negatively. That was in her early years. She soon learned that no one took minutes of faculty meetings very seriously.

I will close on a more personal note. Nancy was a good friend, one that could be trusted. She kept confidential matters to herself, tried to damp-down gossip, and she avoided the inevitable campus cliques. She was always frank, a rare trait among academics in my experience, and Nancy had principles by which she lived and worked, another trait seldom encountered…anywhere. Her sparkling but very dry sense of humor would demand that I quit now, before I gush. Thanks Nancy. You are missed and will be for many years

Duane L. Cady
Professor of Philosophy Emeritus
Hamline University