Trumbull resident Dennis Keenan, Ph. D., named Teacher of the Year at Fairfield University


Image: Dennis KeenanDennis Keenan, Ph.D., knows firsthand what a profound difference a stellar teacher can make in a student's life.

Growing up on a farm in Iowa, Dr. Keenan was interested in nature. Many fond memories of walking through prairies, wetlands, and forests with his father prompted him to major in biology at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. It was there that a professor helped him realize his true calling lay on a different path - studying and teaching philosophy.

"Father Rene McGraw made philosophy come alive for me. I took five of his courses and minored in the subject," said Dr. Keenan, now an associate professor of philosophy at Fairfield University.

Dr. Keenan's about face has meant a world of difference for Fairfield University students, who named him the 2003 Fairfield University Teacher of the Year. Keenan is the 18th professor selected for this honor by the Fairfield University chapter of Alpha Sigma Nu, the National Jesuit Honor Society.

The award is given to a faculty member students select for outstanding dedication to the profession, the students, and the development of the university and surrounding community. Students bestowed the honor at the annual Senior Brunch in May.

Amanda Martignetti, '03, said she enjoyed Dr. Keenan's wit and encouragement in class.

"His enthusiasm for and devotion to the subject is exceptional," she said. "He takes very challenging material, brings it down to a level that everyone can understand, and encourages us to question philosophers and their theories."

In his acceptance speech, Dr. Keenan challenged seniors to continue asking questions and considering all sides to issues.

"If something seems black and white, then you've missed something," he said.

Dr. Keenan credits his father with first challenging him to look beyond their rural farm for a career.

"He told us, 'Pursue whatever you want, whatever makes you happy,'" he said. "So I did."

After graduating from St. John's, Dr. Keenan earned a master's degree and a doctoral degree, both in philosophy, from Loyola University in Chicago. He taught at Loyola and at the University of Essex in Colchester, England, before joining the Fairfield University faculty in 1993.

Dr. Keenan is the author of the book "Death and Responsibility: The "Work" of Levinas" (State University of New York Press, 1999) and the editor of the book "Hegel and Contemporary Continental Philosophy" (State University of New York Press, forthcoming). He recently completed another book, "The Sacrifice of the Sacrifice: On the Way to a Genealogy of Sacrifice," which is being considered for publication by Indiana University Press. He is the author of journal articles on Nietzsche, Levinas, Derrida, and Kristeva.

He is working on projects on evolutionary theory and on the 14th-century mystic Meister Eckhart.

Dr. Keenan is affiliated with the American Philosophical Association, the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, and the American Academy of Religion.

In addition to teaching, Dr. Keenan is known for his community-building skills. He serves as a mentor in the university's Ignatian Residential College, where he meets with a group of 10 students each month, and he organizes an annual faculty softball game and picnic. He also coordinated a recent poetry reading. Off campus, he is a lector and Eucharistic minister at St. James Catholic Church in Stratford.

Dr. Keenan lives in Trumbull with his wife, Liz Keenan, who is an assistant professor of social work at Southern Connecticut State University.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on June 10, 2003

Vol. 35, No. 319