Renowned CU-Boulder Philosophy Professor Hazel Barnes Dies At 92

March 19, 2008

Renowned philosophy Professor Emerita Hazel Barnes, an expert in French existentialism who taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder from 1953 to 1986, died March 18 at her home in Boulder. She was 92.

Barnes is widely noted for her 1956 translation of French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's classic "Being and Nothingness." The translation helped import Sartre's ideas to the English-speaking world.

In 1962 she made a series of 10 broadcasts shown on National Educational Television stations across the nation, introducing the basics of existentialism to an audience of unprecedented breadth.

"Hazel Barnes was an extraordinary intellectual, whose interests spanned philosophy, classics and literature," said Graham Oddie, professor of philosophy and associate dean for humanities and the arts at CU-Boulder. "Through her seminal translations she brought the philosophy of existentialism to the United States, and through her teaching and mentoring she inspired generations of students.

"It is totally fitting that the highest award the university bestows on its faculty, for outstanding excellence in teaching and research, is named after her. She will be sadly missed, but her legacy will be a powerful presence on this campus for a long time to come."

Barnes' skill as a teacher also won her widespread recognition. In 1991, CU-Boulder established the Hazel Barnes Prize to recognize "the enriching interrelationship between teaching and research." The $20,000 award is given annually and is the highest faculty recognition for teaching and research given by the university.

Associate Professor David Boonin, who is chair of the philosophy department, said that Barnes "had a reputation for making difficult material accessible to students."

"Although she was an extremely accomplished scholar, she was also known to be extremely down to Earth," Boonin said. Barnes was one of the most popular teachers in the philosophy department, he said. Earlier this decade a seminar room in the Hellems Arts and Sciences Building also was named for Barnes.

Barnes was the first woman to be named a CU Distinguished Professor in 1979, and the fourth professor at CU-Boulder to receive the honor. She also received the University of Colorado Medal, awarded for distinguished service to Colorado in arts, literature and public life, a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977 and several other teaching and faculty honors.

Barnes was born on Dec. 16, 1915 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She received her bachelor's degree from Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., and her doctorate in Greek literature from Yale University. Before joining the CU-Boulder faculty in 1953, she taught at several colleges and universities including Ohio State University, the University of Toledo and Pierce College in Athens, Greece.

Barnes published 12 books including "Sartre and Flaubert," "An Existentialist Ethics" and "The Story I Tell Myself: A Venture in Existentialist Autobiography."

A memorial service for Barnes is being planned and will be announced at a later date.

Additional comments about Barnes from CU-Boulder faculty and administrators:

o Philip DiStefano, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs: "Hazel was part of a small group of faculty that put CU-Boulder on the map as one of the leading research universities in the country. As one of the most prominent philosophers of her time, she made a decision to spend her career at CU when she could have chosen any major university in the country."

o Wesley Morriston, professor and associate chair of philosophy: "In spite of her extraordinary intellectual accomplishments, Hazel Barnes was an unpretentious person who always made other people comfortable. She was one of the kindest and most generous people I have encountered in academia."

o Forrest Williams, emeritus professor of philosophy: "Hazel was an excellent teacher and a wonderful person. With her knowledge of classics, she was of course an exceptionally well-educated intellectual, and brought that breadth, as well as her understanding of the modern phenomenon of the famous Sartre, to her classes, her colleagues and to her many friends. She was also a sincerely modest person who never sought but in fact often occupied the limelight at CU and also at many other universities."

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