UND Today

University of North Dakota's Official News Source

A passionate scholar

University community remembers Donald Poochigian

Donald Poochigian
UND Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religion Donald Poochigian was an active researcher and publisher throughout his career, with an extensive vita. He presented papers at conferences around the world and was a recognized international scholar. The recently retired Poochigian died Dec. 28, in his native California. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

One of UND’s “old lions,” a passionate scholar who loved knowledge for its own sake, recently passed away.

Donald “Don” Poochigian, professor emeritus of philosophy and religious studies who spent 46 years at the University, died Dec. 28, in Clovis, Calif. He was 74.

Poochigian, who began teaching at UND in 1971, retired last fall.

He was known for his dedication to students and their learning, love of language and brilliant mind.

“All of us at UND are saddened by the passing of Don Poochigian, who devoted a half century of distinguished service to the University,” said UND President Mark Kennedy. “Professor Poochigian was passionate about how the study of liberal arts contributes to the University’s goal of sparking curiosity and fostering critical thinking among all our students.”

Poochigian was an active researcher and publisher throughout his career, with an extensive vita. He presented papers at conferences around the world and was a recognized international scholar. He served on the board of directors for ATINER, a yearly conference in Athens, Greece, and also reviewed articles for its annual publication.

His passions included his beliefs in faculty governance and academic freedom.

Arts and humanities defender

Royce Blackburn, associate professor of music, recalled Poochigian’s belief in the essential role that humanities and the arts play in the life of a university and its students.

Donald Poochigian
Donald Poochigian

“My favorite memory of Don was an animated conversation we had walking across campus one day talking about how scientists like Robert Oppenheimer and others of his generation were comfortable quoting from great literature to describe and emphasize their work,” Blackburn said. “(Poochigian) credited that literacy to a firm grounding in the humanities and arts, and it was then I realized that Don was a brilliant scholar and a true Romantic.”

“For many years, Don had refused to run for University Senate because he thought it had not protected faculty governance from administrative encroachment,” said Curt Stofferahn, professor emeritus of sociology.  “When he finally consented to run and was elected to the Senate, he became a frequent voice of the ‘loyal opposition.’  During question time, he was unafraid to ask questions of any administrator about any policy or decision. Don was steadfast and unyielding in his principles whether they were faculty rights, faculty governance or the value of the liberal arts.  Don’s conviction and courage on these issues would sometimes embarrass those of us who shared his convictions but lacked his courage.”

“In my estimation (and fittingly for a philosopher), Don saw the university as far more than a place to merely get qualified for a career,” wrote Jim Whitehead, professor emeritus of kinesiology and public health education. “In contrast, I sensed in him a passionate conviction that the future success of the ongoing experiment in liberal secular democratic republicanism (known as the U.S.A.) depends on producing an engaged and educated citizenry.

“Don certainly did his best regarding that aim, and he regularly berated the rest of us about the importance of the goal. I agreed with him, even though sometimes I was critical of how, but not why he tried to achieve his mission. Don appreciated criticism, which was hardly surprising given that critical thinking was, to him, a cherished value of the academy he loved.”

Don Poochigian, far right
Poochigian (above right with the late UND President Tom Clifford on the left), won an outstanding teaching award from the University in 1973. While at UND, Poochigian taught philosophy, ethics, moral issues, metaphysics, the philosophy of language and law, political philosophy and more. Image courtesy of UND Special Collections.

Outstanding teacher

Poochigian, who won an outstanding teaching award, taught philosophy, ethics, moral issues, metaphysics, the philosophy of language and law, political philosophy and more.

“Don always had students coming in and out of his office,” said Paula Cox, administrative secretary for philosophy and religion. “He kept them very entertained, and that’s why they loved taking his classes.”

“Don was a sincere person, a great colleague and friend,” said David Lawrence, professor of philosophy and religious studies. “He was an honest person, very kind, and he cared a lot about the education of students. He was a fine person who believed in knowledge for its own sake. It’s a great loss.”

Richard Ferraro, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Psychology, remembered Poochigian’s love for animals, especially cats.

“He and (wife) Toni always had two cats and we do as well,” Ferraro wrote. “Whenever we went over to their house, or when we met for our 20-plus year weekly Friday dinner with other friends, cats were always the main topic, usually followed by UND and then politics.

“Cats were always a popular topic, and Christmas and birthday gifts were almost always cat-themed.  We miss Don tremendously and imagine his cats do too.  We feel for his family and our deepest sympathies go out to them (and their cats).”

Don Poochigian:

Donald Poochigian was born Oct. 7, 1943 in Fresno, Calif., to Vaughn and Queenie Poochigian and was raised in a close-knit Armenian community. He graduated from Sanger High School in 1961 and from Fresno State University in 1965 with a degree in political science. From there he attended Johns Hopkins University and the Claremont Graduate School, from which he earned a Ph.D., in government and political theory. He taught at the University of Minnesota for two years.

He joined the UND faculty in 1971. He emphasized teaching; his office door was always open and students often stopped by. He served on numerous University committees and was elected to serve on the Faculty Rights Committee many times. The Dean of Arts and Sciences appointed him to organize a series of interdisciplinary public discussions during his last two years at UND.

He is survived by his wife, Toni; three children, Jennifer Howard (Houston, Texas), Aaron Poochigian (Fresno, Calif.) and Amy Cruz (Placentia, Calif.); his sister, Donna Walzer Ormiston; and his brother, Douglas Poochigian.

Editor’s Note: The University lost a number of faculty and staff in the last year, and we publish obituaries for everyone we know about in University Letter at http://blogs.und.edu/uletter/category/in-remembrance/ . Clicking on the “Previous” button will take you to previously published obituaries.