Seasoned professor blends humor, insight for rich educational experience

When students think of professor of English Ken Asher, the first things that may come to mind may be his soft-spoken nature, kindness or laidback sense of humor. Not only does Asher bring such friendliness and intelligence to the Geneseo campus, but he is also a delight to speak with in and out of class.

Asher earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. He’s been a professor at Geneseo since 1986. Before joining the Geneseo faculty, however, Asher taught at Stanford University for four years and the Georgia Institute of Technology for one year.

Asher explained that while he was at Stanford, his contract was for three years “and then the students found out it was my last year and they all signed a petition and brought it over to administration and I got a fourth year because of that.” This demonstrates how significant of an impact Asher has on his students, even early in his career.

Asher doesn’t limit his teachings solely to the English department—he’s also a professor of philosophy and humanities. When Geneseo introduced the Oxford Humanities II program, Asher was the first professor to teach for it. Asher has accompanied Geneseo students to Oxford five times, which made him a very helpful resource for students in terms of what to expect. And in my own time abroad in England, I found that traveling with Asher was an incredible experience.

“I like the fact that … you have a select group of students,” he said. “Also, I think the obligation to come every day—there’s nowhere to hide abroad. [This helps to] get full participation, both physical presence in the seats and also the students are much more engaged.”

Asher expressed his love for teaching humanities and his appreciation that he has been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to teach it in not only Oxford, but in Rome as well. Humanities has become such a significant class to him because “when the students really see what’s going on, what they’ll understand is that the other things that they’re reading in that class really has a deep relevance to them.”

“I think [students] can understand themselves better, why they think and feel the way they do and also how the institutions around them are put together,” he added. Asher isn’t planning to go abroad in summer 2016, however, as he is in the process of finally publishing his manuscript after “hammering away at it for 15 years.”

“[The manuscript] is on literature and the emotions and ethics and I was trying to explore what literature might contribute to our ethical understanding that philosophy doesn’t,” he added.

Asher emphasized his belief that looking critically at and exploring the spectrum of human emotion is crucial to better understanding our own experiences. “Some philosophers think emotions are a threat to our moral integrity—they make us do irrational stuff,” he said. “I think literature plays a distinctly secondary role in this, so I’m arguing that emotions do have a serious role to play.”

Asher was able to fuse his two areas of expertise when writing his manuscript—every doctoral candidate’s dream. Asher found a fascinating way to fuse literature and philosophy to develop his text.

My academic experience at Geneseo has been more memorable because of Asher—I’m very thankful to have met such a generous, enlightening professor.