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John Goheen, philosophy professor and ombudsperson emeritus, dies at 87
STANFORD -- John D. Goheen, who came to Stanford in 1950 to head the Philosophy Department but ended up devoting himself more broadly to teaching and undergraduate education, died Wednesday, March 23, at Stanford Hospital of natural causes. He was 87.
A man of wide interests, Goheen played a key role in starting Stanford's overseas programs in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. He served for a time as director of Freshman Seminars, helped start the Structured Liberal Education program, helped develop the advising system and headed an ad hoc committee on the status of faculty emeriti.
But he perhaps is best known for 11 years' service as university ombudsperson, a position he left at age 78 in 1985. In that role, he tried to solve problems brought by faculty, staff and students as an intermediary rather than through formal hearings. He continued working one day a week as special assistant to his successor, Leah Kaplan, until August 1990.
Goheen's interest in philosophy was piqued at about age 12 during a visit to his paternal grandfather. While walking in an orchard, his grandfather said, "You know, John, I don't know why I'm here."
"That started me off," Goheen said in a 1985 interview. "I decided that I ought to find out the purpose of life, what we are here on earth for."
He went on to major in philosophy, earning his bachelor's degree from Pomona College in 1929, followed the next year by a master's degree at Claremont College. After studying at the Sorbonne for three years, Goheen returned to the United States to earn his doctorate at Harvard in 1935.
He taught at Harvard and Wellesley, and in 1940 accepted a post at the new Queen's College, Long Island, to organize its philosophy department.
In 1950, he was recruited to be executive head of Stanford's philosophy department.
But before he arrived, President J.E. Wallace Sterling asked him to arrange an exchange program with the University of Tokyo. "It seemed very bizarre for me to go to Japan, about which I knew nothing, before I had even arrived to take up my new post," Goheen later recalled.
He directed the program, which was called the American Studies Seminar, for six years, largely from the home campus, but he spent five summers teaching there. The program started as a mechanism to reestablish relations with the Japanese academic community and evolved into a program aimed at increasing Japanese understanding of the United States. Faculty were selected not for their knowledge of Japan but for their expertise in various fields of American thought.
Later, Sterling asked Goheen to start a Stanford in Tokyo program. It opened in 1961 at the Wakeijuku Institute near Waseda University with an initial group of 22 students, equally divided between graduate and undergraduate students.
Eventually, there were not enough Stanford students to sustain the program, so it was changed to an inter-university program with Yale, Harvard, Michigan and several other major universities. The program differed from Stanford's European campuses in that students went for a full year, lived in Japanese dormitories and attended lectures both in Japanese and English.
In 1962, the Japanese government awarded Goheen the Order of the Sacred Treasure for his contributions to U.S.-Japanese cultural and educational relations.
Goheen taught a wide variety of courses, including Greek philosophy. He published works on Thomas Aquinas, Alfred North Whitehead and others. He was co-editor with the late Professor John Mothershead of the Collected Papers of Clarence Irving Lewis.
George Cattermole, one of Goheen's doctoral students and later a teaching colleague at Stanford, said that Goheen's teaching "brought together the personal and the professional - there was love in every lecture. He was a person who listened to students and encouraged them to learn and live on their own terms."
During the mid-1950s, Goheen served on the committee that produced the most thorough revision of Stanford's undergraduate education in 35 years, resulting in the General Studies Program.
In addition to teaching in his own department, Goheen taught in the Sophomore Seminar Program and the Graduate Program in Humanities. In the late 1960s, he taught at Stanford's Florence campus.
In 1970, he headed a subcommittee on advising that developed an advising system intended to foster closer, more informal relations between students and advisers.
He was named recipient of a Dinkelspiel Award for outstanding service to undergraduate education in 1971.
Goheen formally retired, as was then required, in 1972, but that was merely a technicality. He once said that "for a teacher who is still vitally interested in his work, an arbitrary retirement age is cruel."
He promptly accepted appointment as professor of philosophy at Hayward State for seven years, but also continued his Stanford activities.
In the early 1970s, he joined with Mark Mancall, history, and Larry Ryan, English, to found the Structured Liberal Education program, an intellectually rigorous interdisciplinary program that is now one of the tracks of the Cultures, Ideas and Values program. Goheen lectured on Greek philosophy and Descartes and served as a section leader through 1991-92.
In 1974, President Richard W. Lyman named him university ombudsman, a title Goheen changed to ombudsperson. He used his annual report to make numerous recommendations and observations. He suggested that improvements were needed in the faculty grievance process and that students striving for top grades at any cost had placed the Honor Code in jeopardy. He encouraged university officials to liberalize policies relating to maternity leave.
The Associated Students' Council of Presidents appointed him to a new task force on tenure and teaching quality in 1976.
He served as director of Freshman Seminars in the late 1970s, and chaired a panel on grading problems.
In 1979, he was named by then Undergraduate Dean Herant Katchadourian to the Emeriti Undergraduate Council, a group of the university's senior statesmen who would serve as teaching consultants to faculty and teaching assistants. They also were to be available for advice on curricular development and other educational issues. The following year, he headed an ad hoc committee on the status of emeriti and published a report noting that as a group retired Stanford faculty were doing well financially, but were worried about the continuing impact of inflation.
Among his other activities, Goheen was president of the American Philosophical Society's Pacific Coast division in 1957-58. He chaired the Stanford chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1959-60.
He was president of the Stanford chapter of the American Association of University Professors during 1959-60 and again in 1972. During the latter term, he and the AAUP Executive Board asked the Board of Trustees to delay a decision in the H. Bruce Franklin case pending a survey of its impact on other institutions. Franklin, a tenured professor of English, eventually was fired for his role in student demonstrations.
Goheen is survived by two children, a daughter, Anne Shelly of Eagle, Idaho, and a son, Arthur Goheen of Berkeley, and seven grandchildren. His wife, the former Nancy Reid, died in the late 1970s.
At his request, no services will be held.
The family prefers donations to two organizations in which Goheen was active, the American Civil Liberties Union or Greenpeace, or to a charity of the donor's choice.
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