During his 44 years at Rollins, Professor of Philosophy Hoyt Edge often taught sitting on top of the table—rather than at its head.
Reflecting on his 44th year and final semester at Rollins, Hoyt Edge gently leaned back in his office chair in Rex Beach Hall, surrounded by philosophy books and mementos of journeys to Indonesia, and said he’s grateful for the chance to dare his students to live a well-examined life.
“As a philosopher, you want to get students to reflect on their lives and values and what they should being doing in their lives,” he says.
It’s been a recurring theme for the 70-year-old professor of philosophy ever since he first took to the lectern—or in Edge’s case, sat cross-legged and shoeless on classroom tables, asking questions and inviting debate. Moreover, he is contented knowing his decision to step aside stems from the same self-awareness he’s been challenging students to seek since 1970.
“I’ve lived a charmed life,” says Edge, who still loves a lively discussion. “I’m proud of the College, but after 44 years, I’m ready. After 44 years, you change and students change. Rollins has a great future. That’s why you bring in great, young faculty.”
As the former associate dean of the faculty and the former acting director of international initiatives, Edge leaves behind a long list of accomplishments and memories. Those milestones include helping lead social change on campus; guiding college trips to Bali, Indonesia; directing the Rollins College Conference that eases first-year students into college life; recruiting professors; and almost literally walking into the woman he would later marry.
As for his plans? He wants to spend more time with his wife, Charlene Lamy Edge ’94 and keep in touch with goings-on at Rollins. “I’m going to start taking afternoon naps,” he jokes, “so I can go to all the great activities that happen here at night.”
Nevertheless, not everyone seems ready to say farewell.
“I haven’t met another person who embodies Rollins like Hoyt,” says Micki Meyer, the College’s director of community engagement. “I have never met somebody who loves Rollins so much. He always wants to make it better for students. I think that Hoyt is Rollins.”
In 2010, Meyer was one of about 20 faculty and staff who joined Edge on a trip to Bali, where the communal culture became one of Edge’s interests and passions. “His excitement and enthusiasm is so contagious,” Meyer says. “It’s effervescent and ever-present. It helped me understand a different culture.”
Meyer said she’ll miss the philosopher’s presence on campus. “Hoyt is like a good wine, and he gets better with age. I’m so sad he’s retiring, but he deserves a break.”
A Quest for Self-awareness
Edge experienced one of his most dramatic shifts in outlook when the College sent him to Australia to evaluate Rollins’ program in Sydney.
While Down Under, he learned about Aboriginal culture, which emphasized family and community structures more than Western ways of thinking. “I was blown away by their worldview—a totally different conception of the world. You don’t understand your assumptions until you see them from another point of view.”
He was especially taken by the concept of “Dreaming,” which in Aboriginal cultures ties all members together as one with their ancestors and the land. Time and individual boundaries do not exist. “[It’s] a radically different conception from the Western assumption of an atomistic individual, cut off from other people and from the world.”
The search for the limits of self-awareness also led him to research “the border areas of human experience,” where spiritual trances and paranormal activities are considered possible paths to knowledge. Surprisingly, perhaps, one of his guides along the way was Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century German philosopher.
“I have found him to be incredibly insightful in asking the right questions,” Edge says. “[Nietzsche] helped me question the worldview I grew up with, and then he paved the way for me to be open to the non-Western worldviews I encountered in the Australian Aboriginal and Balinese cultures.”
Rapport with Students
Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, where he played basketball for Atherton High School, Edge earned his undergraduate degree from Stetson University and his doctorate at Vanderbilt University.
He began his Rollins career in a flurry of activity in 1970. Students were questioning the Vietnam War and demanding answers about gender equity issues on campus. Female students had curfews of 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends. But males had none and students asked why.
They also wanted to know why Rollins had no coed dorms when many other colleges did. Edge guided some discussions and encouraged groups to present their concerns to the administration. Before long, the College eliminated curfews, and College Arms and Pinehurst Cottage became the first coed residence halls in the fall of 1975.
Edge recalls those first 20 years as a near-perfect pairing of his intellectual energies and his students’ interests. “Students worked like hell in my classroom because they didn’t want to disappoint me,” he says. “Nothing got me more excited than a class that was working and nothing gets me more depressed than a class that doesn’t go well.”
But lately, he says, “it’s harder to interact eyeball-to-eyeball with students. I’m 50 years older than they are. I don’t watch their TV programs. I don’t listen to their music. Sometimes students don’t know what to say to me. I can remember the first student who called me gramps. He meant it respectfully.”
A colleague had a slightly different take on the man he called an “impish hippie” for his sly humor and passion for social issues. “His rapport with students was so strong for so long that when it came down to the normal levels, he felt disappointed,” says Tom Cook, professor of philosophy.
“Hoyt has been a mentor to endless number of young faculty members,” Cook says. “He hired me when I was in Massachusetts, and he was very effective in calling me up to tell me the temperature in Florida.”
Edge still has his sense of humor. And he believes he’s been lucky to do what he loves at the same place for four decades in an era when Millennials expect to change jobs every two or three years.
“For me, teaching is my life,” Edge says. “It defines me. I can’t imagine myself being anything else than a college professor.”