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Glen Nesse: Whatcom Community College philosophy instructor

CDN's weekly community profile

Glen Nesse with his arms crossed.
Glen Nesse, adjunct philosophy instructor at Whatcom Community College, found his passion for philosophy during his teenage years. (Jack Warren/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Staff Reporter

Glen Nesse (he/him)

Age: 43

City: Ferndale

Lived here for: 7 months

Originally from: Brainerd, Minnesota

Notable: Western Washington University grad, environmentalist, taekwondo black belt

How did you get into philosophy originally?

That actually goes back to Brainerd. Before I graduated from high school, the administration was pushing me out into the college, to go into what’s now called Running Start, but back then, in the ’90s, was “post-secondary enrollment option.” And the reason they wanted to push me out is because I was the only kid in the in the entire school with a mohawk at the time, and it was causing problems with the other kids.

Fortuitously for me, I went to the community college there, Central Lakes College. I took some philosophy classes, fell in love with them. Herb Ollila was the name of my instructor out there. I took every class he offered, and that’s really what got me into it.

What courses do you teach?

I teach intro to philosophy sometimes. I also teach traditional logic, which is a symbolic logic class, and I teach the environmental ethics class and a philosophy of religion class. Those are the ones I regularly teach. I sometimes do an honors seminar.

What is the subject matter in your environmental ethics class?

Most broadly construed, it just investigates our relationship with the nonhuman world.

If you think about ethics, going back thousands of years, it’s probably one of the oldest subjects, if not the oldest subject, people have been interested in. Generally, it involves our relationships to other people, though. But more recently, we’ve become aware that we also have obligations, not just to other humans, but to nonhuman animals.

Also, we can ask questions like, “What is our obligation to the rest of the world?” — the forests, the oceans, which we’re currently polluting with microplastics, and runoff and so on. And what does that require of us? What should we be doing differently from how we are treating it?

If I think that there’s a core part of the course, it’s how to respond to what I call the “ecological crisis,” which is a culmination of factors that are driving the mass extinction of species.

I've been told teaching environmental ethics caused you to give up your car.

I started teaching this class about seven years ago, and two things happened right around the time I started teaching it.

One was that I realized that students could call me out for being hypocritical, right? So, a very pragmatic concern. Also, I started attending to issues in environmental ethics far more than I did before. I don’t think there’s any way around that, if you’re teaching it every quarter.

And two, the car that I did have at the time, which was this atrocious yellow Dodge Neon, blew a head gasket. There went all of my savings at the time, so that also reinforced the decision that it’s time to give up cars.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I’ve been hosting an open philosophy club meeting at Brandywine Kitchen, 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, every Wednesday for about the last 10 years.

I spend a lot of time reading. I like playing video games. I’m still playing Skryim — I’m a little dated. I  have been doing taekwondo for many years as well. I’m second-degree black belt.

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