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Philosophy professor enjoys temporary position

November 2, 2007

UW-River Falls is a welcome change for Professor Iclal Ayse Kucukkirca who teaches and lives philosophy.

Kucukkirca grew up in a middle class household in Istanbul, Turkey, and lived there until coming to the United States five years ago to pursue her master’s degree.

“I pretty much had a smooth life, smooth and protected compared with most people [in the Middle East],” Kucukkirca said.

Though she didn’t experience war or major hardships like many in the Middle East, Kucukkirca had to work very hard to get into the schools that would give her a good education.

The best schools in Turkey accept a small percentage of the students who want to attend, and enrollment is determined by “nightmarish general examinations” taken before sixth grade and college, Kucukkirca said.

Kucukkirca traded one academically competitive environment for another five years ago when she enrolled in the Master’s Program at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York. After getting her Master of Arts degree in philosophy, Kucikkirca spent close to three years teaching philosophy classes at Binghamton.

Kucukkirca is filling in for Imtiaz Moosa, a UWRF philosophy professor, while he is on sabbatical for the 2007-2008 school year.

Moosa recommended Kucukkirca over several other candidates who applied for the position because her areas of expertise fit well with the courses he normally teaches, Betty Bergland, chair of the history and philosophy department, said.

When she started teaching classes at UWRF, Kucukkirca said she was pleasantly surprised to find that students seemed to be genuinely interested in learning.

“I think the students are more open, and they ask more questions,” Kucukkirca said.

At Binghamton University, a large portion of her students aspired to get into law school after graduating, so they were more competitive and overall more worried about grades than learning.

“I don’t like that competitiveness much,” Kucukkirca said.

The Existentialism and Late Modern Philosophy class Kucukkirca is teaching now is her best teaching experience ever because the students are very interested in the subject and make insightful contributions to class discussions, she said.

Brianna Gullickson, a junior psychology major, is in Kucukkirca’s Existentialism and Late Modern Philosophy class. Gullickson said she likes Kucukkirca’s discussion-based teaching method.

“She talks to us like we’re humans,” Gullickson said.

Not everything about the move was positive for Kucukkirca.

“I left many friends in Binghamton whom I miss a lot,” Kucukkirca said.

A few of her friends who lived in Binghamton while she was still there introduced Kucukkirca to yoga, which has become a fixture in her routine.

Kucukkirca said she didn’t think she would like yoga at first, but then she tried it and discovered that there was a philosophical component to it. There is a distinction between the body and the mind, and people can run into trouble when they can’t get the two to work together, Kucukkirca said. She practices yoga to help bridge this divide.

“Breathing, I think, is the tool that brings the mind and body together,” Kucukkirca said.

Kucukkirca also hikes throughout the year.

“I think nature is perfect in every single season,” Kucukkirca said.

Kucukkirca said that she believes existence is limited to the physical features of the world that can be directly observed.

“I’m not religious,” Kucukkirca said. “I don’t believe in any god.”

Kucukkirca said she also considers herself to be a Marxist and a feminist. Since class and gender inequality are responsible for many of today’s conflicts, lessening inequalities would resolve much of the world’s conflict, Kucukkirca said.

Kucukkirca is incorporating her concern for women’s rights into her dissertation as she works toward her Ph.D.

“My dissertation is on female seasonal workers in Turkey,” Kucukkirca said.

Turkey’s female seasonal workers are typically Kurds, an ethnic group concentrated in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq. Following news developments about the Kurds has become especially important for her now that Turkey is at war with them, Kucukkirca said.

The war won’t stop her research.

“I have to go,” Kucukkirca said.

Besides, the area where Kucukkirca conducts her research, Giresun in northeast Turkey, is fairly far from the area near the border between Turkey and Iraq most affected by the fighting.

Because they have few other job options, Kurds will likely continue their migration to northeast Turkey for seasonal work. The male to female ratio or overall number of workers may change in some way she can’t yet predict, Kucukkirca said.

Kucukkirca plans to go to Turkey to finish her dissertation after her year at UWRF is complete.