In Memoriam: Andreas Teuber

andreas Teuber

ANDREAS TEUBER - MEMORIAL MINUTE

May 5, 1942 - February 15, 2021
Harvard University, B.A.
Harvard University, Ph.D.

 Andreas Teuber died peacefully at his home on February 15; he was 78.

Andreas was educated at Harvard, and his Ph.D. thesis was supervised by John Rawls and Robert Nozick.  He came to Brandeis from the University of Washington and taught Philosophy here from 1985 - 2020. 

 His dedication to teaching and mentoring, and the affection of his students in his popular classes – usually the highest-enrolling classes in the Division of the Humanities – made him a mainstay of the department.  His syllabus for Introduction to Philosophy was a small textbook in and of itself (pure Andreas), and was recognized as one of the Web’s “Ten Most Popular Philosophy Syllabi”.  His special gifts as a teacher were recognized - he won both Brandeis teaching awards: the Walzer Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Perlmutter Fellowship Award for Teaching Excellence. 

 Andreas was usually on a year-round teaching schedule.  Once finals were done at Brandeis, he was off to the Harvard Extension School, where he regularly taught all summer (and - no surprise - he typically had the largest enrollments).

 As a teacher, Andreas tried to get each and every one of his students to do philosophy; to step up onto the stage for a moment and try to discover their own philosophical voice; to join a millennium-old conversation about justice or beauty or truth or law.  His classes would create as many opportunities as possible for these moments - rewrites, rewrites of rewrites, presentations, review sessions, and so on – and notwithstanding the enrollments, he would actively participate in all these encounters.  Andreas was also instrumental in developing the Brandeis MA Program in Philosophy, and he mentored dozens of graduate student Teaching Assistants getting their first teaching experience.

 He had broad philosophical interests, especially in Social and Political Philosophy and Aesthetics.  But he tried to keep up with philosophical goings on outside these areas, and was always happy to talk about work his colleagues were doing.  He had a special interest in the political philosophy of John Stuart Mill and the conceptual issues that emerged in the Victorian debates over the secret ballot.  He was originally taken by Mill’s idea that the secret ballot is in tension with the deliberative element of democratic decision making.  Andreas felt that Mill’s insight had been overlooked; the centrality of deliberation is now more widely discussed. 

 Andreas was a Member and Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University.  He published on topics in philosophy, politics, and law in many publications including the London Review of Books, The New York Times and The Boston Globe.  His last work – on the late Stanley Cavell, the philosopher whom he most admired – appeared just a few weeks before his passing.

 Andreas had a parallel career in the theater.   As an undergraduate at Oxford University, he took up acting.  Cast in the role of Mephistopheles in the Oxford University Drama Society production of Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus," he played opposite Richard Burton as Faustus and Elizabeth Taylor as Helen of Troy, and he repeated his role in the Columbia Pictures movie version of Doctor Faustus.  I understand that the film was a bomb, but some critics lauded Andreas’ performance as a stand-out.  In 1967 he had small parts in a number of television series, among them, "I Spy" with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp and "The Big Valley".  I think Andreas saw his early acting career as a ‘one off’; things you get into as a University student.

 But his life in the theater as a director and producer was more than a one-off.  He was the producer and sometimes the director for the new Poets' Theater in 1987 and was its Artistic Director well into the 1990’s, working with poets such as Seamus Heaney, Joseph Brodsky, Derek Walcott, and many others.  In 1992 he founded the Cambridge Theater Company and served as its Artistic Director until 1998.

Andreas was complicated.  He was dramatic, sometimes mysterious; he could be charming, impish, and a wonderful presence, but still at times frustrating.  If you were his Chair and needed a straight answer to a question, you were out of luck.  He had no straight-answer mode.  His calls to me always began: “Jerry, this will be short…”  But they never ever were.  In this regard, he was always himself, and - for better or worse - he stubbornly resisted every attempt to box him in or to force him into a persona that might increase efficiency and so on.

 Many of his conversations were little improvised performance pieces.  So too with his emails - which many of you who served on committees with him may have received.  An alum reminiscing about him told me about getting a very long email - formatted like a complex piece of verse - explaining why she could not get a penalty-free extension on a paper.  I suspect that in the end, the student did get some kind of extension because Andreas did not have it in him to deny a student the opportunity to philosophize, and maybe: to shine.  For Andreas, the point of teaching philosophy was to provoke philosophizing; the Socratic ideal. 

  A last anecdote.  Andreas fell ill in November.  I never knew how ill he was until he died.  He was very private about such things.  But as Chair, I tried to pin him down in December and January about whether he would teach his courses in the Spring.  Communication was difficult - he found it hard to talk (Andreas!), was moving from hospital to rehab, back home - and he didn’t have his laptop.  I told him a number of times that I thought it made sense for him to take a medical leave, and he would agree that it made sense, but wanted to talk it over again with his ‘team’, maybe he could miss some time early in the semester and have his TAs cover, maybe he could remain the teacher of record and appear intermittently, and so on.  A raft of unworkable and/or uncertain possible arrangements, but no final answer.  As January crept along I was worried about all this uncertainty in our schedule.  Sharon Fray-Witzer, who was close to Andreas and had served as his head TA for many courses, gave me the key: she thought Andreas could not bring himself to disappoint the enrolled students.  Perhaps if I told him that I, as Chair, strongly advised him to go on medical leave, he would agree.  And she was right.  In our last conversation, I did tell him just that, and his response was along these lines: “Well Jerry, if you feel strongly … then OK.”

  I’ll close with the words of his colleague and friend Larry Simon who wrote me that “[Andreas] mark on thousands upon thousands of young minds is as lasting as any of us will ever hope for.”  He will be missed.

Jerry Samet
Philosophy, Acting Chair

Obituary

Read Professor Teuber's obituary in The Boston Globe.