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A vision of wisdom

October 6, 2006

Philosophy professor Imtiaz Moosa has been teaching at UW-River Falls since 1989, but this fall has been different.

Moosa has evolved to deal with a harsh reality — that he is handicapped.

“I was very touchy of being called blind,” Moosa said. “Even though I am legally blind, I have to get over this touchiness.”

Moosa lost his vision completely on March 15. Doctors told Moosa his condition, a result of the degenerative eye disease Retinitis Pigmentosa, would be permanent. To their surprise, he regained a majority of his already poor sight three days later.

Moosa had grown accustomed to gradually losing his vision, but the March episode left him with the frightening realization that someday he may lose his sight permanently.

This fall, Moosa’s vision again deteriorated. He now walks with the assistance of a cane and has to lecture while wearing sunglasses.

“I must shield my eyes from the light, or what vision I have gets even more blurred,” Moosa said.

His condition has also forced him to reevaluate his outlook on life.

“Initially when I was losing my sight I had lots of negativity,” he said. “I was filled with rage, but I had to get over this.”

Moosa knew carrying a fatalist attitude would be detrimental to his adjustment.

“So I asked myself a question. Not, ‘Why should this happen to me?’ I asked, ‘Why should this not happen to me?'” he said. “Almost 2 million Americans are blind.””

The professor has also used the wisdom of the philosophers he has studied to inspire him to adapt.

“[Friedrich] Nietzsche once said, ‘What does not destroy me makes me stronger,’” Moosa said. “When catastrophes of this nature befall a human being you either rise to the occasion or you crumble under it.”

His students verified that Moosa is an example of Nietzsche’s belief coming to fruition.

“I think he’s improved [as a teacher],” senior Crystal Helmbolt said. “My first year he had a student assistant grading papers, now he has the students [assistants] read the papers to him.”

Helmbolt is a philosophy minor and is enrolled in her fifth course with Moosa.

“I like that he gets students interacting and discussing,” she said. “I think he’s one of the best teachers on campus.”

Moosa said his handicap limits his ability to read fine print, but the UW-RF administration has gone out of their way to help him.

“I will be provided with computers that will actually read for me,” he said.

History and philosophy department Chair Betty Bergland said that the department is doing whatever it can to assist Moosa.

“We find him very valuable as the only full-time professor of philosophy,” Bergland said. “He has been important in guiding new innovations on campus and in the curriculum.”

Bergland said Moosa has been vital in creating a history major with a philosophy emphasis, as well as introducing global religion classes.

Still, Moosa said he has a long way to go before he becomes fully acclimated.

One particular difficulty is his ability to discern faces.

“I now have to rely upon my hearing,” Moosa said. “I am more sensitive to how the class is responding to me.”

Senior Bret Hoven isn’t bothered because his professor is unable to distinguish his students during discussions.

“I don’t feel it’s diminished his ability,” Hoven said. “What’s important [in philosophy] is the idea, not whose ideas they are.”

Even though his students believe he is adjusting well, Moosa still feels he has certain psychological demons to face.

“I do not want others to see me walking with a cane,” he said. “It’s the fact that others will not see me as normal. The challenge is to get beyond the petty considerations of what other people think of me.”