COLA Connections Newsletter: October 2013

Professor Engström discusses the background of the Malmö University-RIT relationship

By: Kelly Fidler

I'm sure when Dr. Timothy Engström was an undergraduate studying in Lund, Sweden, he never imagined that one of his friendships would in time help bring two schools and cities together. This exact scenario is happening now between RIT and Malmö University in Malmö, Sweden. Engström was invited to Malmö University in 2009 for three weeks as a "Visiting Professor". The invitation came from a long-time friend and academic colleague there, Eva Wolf, with whom he shares common philosophical interests and was collaborating. It was through his friend from his undergraduate days in the late 70's that he and Eva met. She is now the spouse of that friend from his undergraduate days in Lund and on the faculty in Malmö. During this time he made a wide range of connections, and formal discussions of a university partnership began. He was invited back by Malmö University to spend an entire semester as a "Visiting Professor" in 2012. "Meaningful and sustainable university partnerships begin with a personal as well as an academic commitment. We do these things because we love what we do," said Engström. "Bringing the personal and professional together is what gives a partnership meaning, depth, and endurance."

Dr. Engström is positive that there will be plenty more collaboration between the RIT and Malmö University communities in the future. The topic of social sustainability was the theme of a recent RIT/Malmö symposium at RIT. Twenty-eight visitors came from Malmö to solidify the new partnership: an unprecedented number for such a purpose. "We can learn a lot from the Swedish model and they can learn a lot from s RIT's educational model. There needs to be real reciprocity to sustain a partnership." He predicts future student and faculty exchanges, as well as course collaboration, and joint degree programs between the two universities. "RIT has had a different, more economically opportunistic and administratively led model for pursuing international partnerships in the past. We hope this model is different and that it provides a broad set of reciprocal opportunities for the future."

Speaking with enthusiasm of the budding relationship between RIT and Malmö, Engström shows the same passion for his own personal scholarly work. First teaching at the University of Hawaii after graduate school, Dr. Engström wanted to move closer to his roots in upstate New York. After living for a decade in Europe, and then Hawaii, he was ready to be closer to home, which is a factor that brought him to RIT. He found RIT to be a "good opportunity to combine being nearer home and to do philosophy with really great colleagues."

He concentrates primarily on 19th and 20th Century comparative philosophy: mostly German, French, and American. This often involves the philosophy of art and aesthetic theory, social and political philosophy, and philosophy of technology. "We interact with the world through various media and tools; it doesn't come to us unmediated. I'm intrigued by how these different instrumentalities shape our knowledge and interpretation of the world and of ourselves," clarified Engström. He carries these questions with him into the classroom, admitting he doesn't have a favorite course to teach: "It is unwise to teach a course you don't really like teaching." He enjoys working with students at the introductory level, giving them their first glimpse of philosophy, all the way up to graduate students "who are already very accomplished within their own areas of practice, but whose understanding of that practice can be significantly enhanced through philosophical study and engagement."

Dr. Engström "couldn't imagine continuing his work at RIT or imagine RIT itself in the absence of close relationships and partnerships with colleagues abroad." Another visit to Malmö is being discussed, as he likes to visit as often as possible.