9 questions with retiring philosophy chair Dr. Robert Maldonado

Headshot of Dr. Robert Maldonado

Dr. Robert Maldonado, professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy, is retiring this fall. He has been with Fresno State since 1991 serving as a faculty and member of numerous boards, committees and organizations on campus. He is a founding member of the Smittcamp Family Honors College, a member of the Edward O. Lund Foundation and has been a faculty member of the Hispanic Summer Program, among other achievements. Recently, he was awarded the Provost Award for Faculty Service, a token of his rich career at Fresno State.

We sat down with Dr. Maldonado to hear more about his 32 years at Fresno State and his future plans following retirement.

How did you feel when you learned you won the Provost’s Award for Faculty Service?

The work itself has been its own reward, but it is really nice to have it recognized in this way.

You will be officially retired after this semester. Do you have any big plans following your retirement?

I am FERPing (Faculty Early Retirement Program). I was actually never planning to FERP because I just wanted to do other things. But, because of being chair [of philosophy] and chairing the University Budget Committee, I’ve only been teaching one class each semester. I really didn’t want to go out not teaching, because I really view myself as teaching-centric.

I’m planning to do the M.A. in photography here, so I’m hoping that for at least a year, I can split half my time each semester between the M.A. program and teaching.

Reflecting on your career, do you have a favorite memory?

Well, the first thing that came to mind was one of my favorite classes, which was a senior seminar on theories of interpretation. The class was great. It all came together. That was when Carolyn Cusick was a new professor, and we had some overlap in our work, and so I invited her to come to class, and it was great; we just kind of worked on each other and the students.

Study abroad has been an amazing thing, certainly a highlight. Maybe Smittcamp.

I understand photography is a hobby of yours. Can you talk a little about your interest in photography?

Well, I’m kind of a technical geek, so that was kind of part of the way I got into it. I got my first camera when I was ten or 11. My father got me a film camera. Then having kids and teaching the study abroad program, things really took off. Especially with the advent of digital.

I started taking classes. I studied with Julia Bradshaw, who was a photography professor here, a decade ago or so. And so there are a handful of other classes in the Department of Art, Design and Art History. And so it just kind of morphed into something unexpected. I really enjoy it. But I love the work of photography, the doing of it.

It’s very challenging, but digital has taken a craft element out of photography, and maybe that’s democratized a lot of things, which is probably okay. You snap a picture, you put a filter on it and you print it at Costco, or you just look at it on your phone. There is just not a lot of work or craft that goes into that.

What drew you to Biblical Studies, specifically the New Testament?

Well, I actually fulfilled the requirements for both Old and New, but the way the degree was awarded, it could only put one in a box. But I read a book by this Roman Catholic scholar by the name of Raymond Brown, who did this really fat book on the infancy stories, which are a total of four chapters between Matthew and Luke. And it was just an amazing experience. I read it, and I had no idea this world existed, and I was like, “I want to do this.” 

Can you tell me about the scholarship you’re involved in? 

Oh, endlessly. So it’s the Edward O. Lund Foundation, which is a foundation that was born in tragedy. Eddy Lund was a friend of mine. He was the gallery director here at Fresno State, and he was tragically killed in a charity bike race. They created this foundation to support art students going to study abroad in London because he had connections from London and England. It was the second or third year after the scholarship’s creation when I was invited to be on the board. Every year we give full scholarships to students and pay all of the program expenses, plus a stipend which is about $1,000.

Can you reflect on being a founding member of the Smittcamp Family Honors College? 

If I can think back that far [haha]. It was always interesting. I mean, doing it was a lot of work. It was really hard to figure out what to do and how to do it. 

I served on the Honors Council for a long time and also taught in the program, in the lower division “life, death and afterlife” class. I only did the upper division class once, but it was another of the highlights of my teaching. It was kind of a really weird class, but it was just a treat to be team teaching. It’s the only time I really got to do that. 

You mentioned an interest in being a student in a study abroad program. Where would you like to go?

I don’t know that I’d really want to study abroad anywhere. Although it’s on my bucket list to learn Welsh, so I think it would be easier to do that in Wales. I’ve been playing with Duolingo, but I really trust that as far as I can click it. Welsh was actually very influential in Tolkien’s construction of one of the Elvish dialects, Sindarin.

So is it Tolkien’s work that draws you to Welsh?

Well, that was one of the reasons, but it’s just a weird language, and I’m interested in that. And it’s beautiful too. And so it would be fun. I think I want to get up to at least a dozen [languages] before I die. 

What languages have you studied?

Well, I’ve studied ten of them, and I had to do six just before I could do my general exams for my Ph.D. English is one if you count that. French, German, Spanish, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Mandarin, Ugaritic and a little bit of Syriac.

Is there anything I missed? Anything you’d like to add?

The work that I do in biblical studies is really about mixed identity. I’ve done a lot of work in Latin American biblical interpretation, and Latinx identity and the Bible – and I’m proud of that work. I was invited to be one of the faculty for the Hispanic Summer Program, which is the oldest funded Latinx program in theology.

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