The Portland Phoenix

Retired professor’s donation will fund philosophy lecture series

A view around the corner of the Glickman Family Library, right, at the future site of the Maine Graduate and Professional Center on the University of Southern Maine's Portland campus. In the background is the Wishcamper Center. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)

A recent $300,000 donation from a former University of Southern Maine Philosophy professor will be used to kickstart a new public lecture series hosted on campus.

Robert Louden, a philosophy professor who retired in 2022 and has lived in Portland for over 40 years, will fund the launch of the Louden Family Lecture Series after receiving a surprise inheritance. The series is in honor of his late father. 

“I’d like to see a little bit more intellectual energy at USM… and I thought funding this lecture series might be a step in that direction,” Louden said in a phone interview, adding that he hopes to bring new ideas to the community and for USM to encourage new dialogues.

Building upon the relationship between the city of Portland and USM is another goal, Louden said, since the lectures will be publicly accessible. 

“I think the university could and should do more to involve people in the community in some of its cultural events,” Louden said. 

As a smaller school with a more limited budget, outside speakers aren’t particularly common at USM, but Louden said when he was in college at the University of California, Santa Cruz, he often took more out of visiting speakers than a typical lecture. By establishing the new lecture series, he said the hope is to bring in new ideas to the campus and hopefully students share a similar interest and value in the guest speakers the department brings in.

The first lecture is set for Oct. 23 and will feature Martin Hagglund, a Humanities professor from Yale University. Hagglund, who specializes in critical theory and modernist literature, will give his lecture on “The Value of Humanities.” A second speaker could be scheduled in the upcoming school year as well, depending on budgeting.

Jason Read, who chairs the university’s philosophy department, said that the lecture series is an opportunity to engage students and faculty as well as the broader Portland community.

“Universities should be places that the community can turn for cultural [and] intellectual programming,” Read said. “I’m excited to be able to do more of that.”

Each year, the lecture series will focus on a particular topic. The first year’s theme is Humanities will also connect Philosophy to other relevant fields, Read said.

It’s rare for a new university lecture series to launch, Read said. Schools that have them have had them for years.

“It is unique to have this start up now,” Read said. “[It’s] an attempt to not just think about the future of the department, but the future of the university as well.”


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