Dakota Student IPPL Profile


Have You Seen This Man?

Armed with a microphone, an open mind and the thoughts and feelings of millions of Americans, Jack Weinstein is doing something truly (un)conventional

By: Michael Thomas
The Dakota Student, January 16, 2009


"I think therefore I am." When you think of the philosophical greats, you think of Rene Descartes, Socrates, Marx, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Emerson, Confucius, Locke, Hobbes, and Plato; add to that list, Jack Russell Weinstein (who oddly enough shares a name with another famous philosopher).

For years, the New York native has been spreading the power and the magic of thought to students (and anyone who will listen) around the world.

But for Jack, that wasn't enough.

The last several years of his life have been devoted to the proliferation of philosophical expression and reasoning to college students. While eager to learn and open to new ideas, Jack is seeking to broaden his horizon beyond his Generation Y following. Just 39 years old, Jack has spent a lifetime giving students the avenue to express themselves and talk openly about topics ranging from current events to prevalent philosophical ideals dating to the early years of modern man.
It's the most modern of man, however, that the University of North Dakota associate professor of philosophy and religion plans on tackling next.

Enter the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life-Jack's next big move in empowering people to think and to express themselves.

"I have always had very mixed emotions about the insular nature of philosophy," he said. "I love philosophy but I have always loved talking with the general public and talking with students and people in the community I want to present philosophy in an interesting and exciting way so that people can still see that it is an interesting and relevant subject."

It's for that reason that Jack Weinstein has created a new institute on the UND campus to not only serve the college core, but also to expand that message to the masses.

"My whole career and life has been focused on the expansion of thought and allowing people to think and presenting ideas for everyone in everyday life."

On the airwaves

After garnering a five-year grant, the institute will offer a monthly call-in radio program (the first on Feb. 8 and the second Sunday of every month after that) that will be broadcast on Prairie Public Radio as well as several film series, presentations and fellowships.

For Jack Weinstein, delivering the message that philosophy is a discipline that can be approached by any human being is a key part of his vision for the institute.

"I want to create a space where it's okay for people to explore and it's one of my jobs as a professor to give people an avenue to explore and the permission to do so. Everyone has something valuable to bring to the table regardless of what they say."

Doing that in the intimate setting of a college classroom is one thing, broadcasting to potentially millions of listeners over the airwaves and giving them the opportunity to call in and offer their own insight is something completely different. But Jack believes that people out there want to express their ideas, they want to give their input; and the technology of radio and the internet enables them to do just that.

"I am advertising this as the world's first call in philosophy show," he said. "I think it's true. There is a renewed interest in philosophy, especially in popular philosophy the time is right to create this fairly unique approach to bridging the gaps between philosophical research to its relevance and importance to everyday life."

His first guests: famed radio personality and host of the Jefferson Hour, Clay Jenkinson. Weinstein also hopes to have Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) as well as Boston University scholar Charles Griswold.

With the plains states representing a more rural part of the country, many would argue that free thought only seems to flow in places like New York and California. But this eternal optimist sees it a bit differently.

The radio program, 'Why? Philosophical Discussions for Everyday Life' will bridge that gap, he says.

"The radio and internet broadcasts puts North Dakota on the same playing field with places like Boston or Los Angeles or New York or Texas," he said. "This program isn't coming out of Harvard, it's coming from UND. And I want the world to see that North Dakota is a rich and amazing place."

Teaming up

But Jack Weinstein isn't alone in his efforts. Partnering with the North Dakota Humanities Council and Brenna Daugherty, its executive director, the group is looking to "bring philosophy out of the realm of the university and into a conversation about philosophy which is important to a strong democracy and community," Daugherty said.

She added that the geographical remoteness of North Dakota brings another element to the table that may be overlooked by other cities and states around the country.

"Using this radio program, we are having an open forum for debate and discussion. We are opening people up to different possibilities and ethical issues-there are a lot of things that need to be talked about and this show will enable people to do that, regardless of where they are. People want to understand, they want to talk, and they want to have a dialogue. That's what we are providing."

So when Thoreau said that "thought is the sculptor who can create the person you want to be," Jack Weinstein is offering the clay and the tools to make that possible.

Walking through the halls

Since Jack began his pitch for the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life the support has been "tremendous." In fact, with speakers such as Dorgan, Jenkinson and others lined up for upcoming shows, Weinstein hopes that the show will be broadcast beyond the airwaves of Prairie Public Radio's network.
Along with the radio show, the film festival will begin in the early spring and will likely be held at the Firehall Theater in downtown Grand Forks. A library of books will also be added to the Chester Fritz Library and discussions held throughout the semester and upcoming years.

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