Humanities Professor David Zacker's first experience at Elgin Community College was a challenge. The professor who hired him in 1999, Humanities Professor and Instructional Coordinator Leslie McTighe, instructed Zacker to teach a class he had neither taught nor taken before.
“I was unnerved by the fact that I had to pull together all of this material into one coherent presentation,” Zacker said. “And I had to convince a very knowledgeable, intelligent professor that I knew how to do so.”
After rising to meet that challenge 18 years ago, Zacker is the one posing the challenges today. His signature venture is the Socrates Café, which he implemented in 2010. Held several times each semester, the forum challenges students to “explore the answers to questions below the surface,” as described in the events' promotional materials. He said each session is “an open, joint inquiry into the big questions.”
"I am proud of the fact that 20 to 25 students meet every other week to discuss philosophical issues,” Zacker said. “They entertain some very deep, complex ideas with minimal input by me.”
We caught up with Zacker and asked him some questions about himself and his work at ECC. Here is what he said.
In your words, what do you do at ECC?
I empower students to think freely, rationally, and critically. I set that as my goal in all my courses and all the activities I help organize and promote here on and off-campus.
What would you do if you were ECC president for a day?
I'd panic! That job is so complex, and anything I could do as president would have so many unforeseeable effects-unforeseeable by me-that I'd be paralyzed, afraid I'd make an irreversible mistake.
If there was a movie about your life, who would you want to play you?
Ewan McGregor. I think he has an adventurous spirit that comes through with his characters. He comes off as serious yet lighthearted, wise, yet impulsive. My image of him is greatly influenced by his personal life.
What's on your “bucket list?”
To ride across the U.S. on my motorcycle with my children riding beside me.
What's one fact we should know about you?
I delivered my oldest daughter in the back of a minivan in front of a pizza joint in Nashville. The midwife was driving when I yelled from the back of the van, “Uh, oh! Head's out!” She slammed on the brakes and instructed me how to help ease my daughter the rest of the way out.
What's something about your job that others should know?
My job is integral to who I am. I teach classes and run the Humanities Center (which holds the Speaker Series and International Film Series during the school year) in a way that I think is central to the philosophical enterprise. And the philosophical enterprise is central to the way I live my life.
What would be your “theme song?”
“Runnin' Down a Dream” by Tom Petty. That may, in part, be because he just passed away.
What was your favorite class in school?
High school geometry class. It was the first time I realized I could find the truth if I used reliable methods and my own rational powers. I did not have to rely on authorities to tell me the truth.
What was your first job out of college?
I was an assistant professor of philosophy at Middle Tennessee State University.
What quote best describes your philosophy?
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” - Socrates
Complete this sentence: “I enjoy working at ECC because….”
I enjoy working at ECC because of my colleagues and the effects we can have on our students. We do important work, and I'm proud of that.