Hultgren enters 55th, final year as professor

Featured Image: Hultgren courts a tree during a 2017 trip to Alaska with a study abroad group. Elizabeth Malcolm | Courtesy

Dr. Lawrence “Larry” Hultgren has been a professor of Philosophy and the chair of Philosophy at Virginia Wesleyan University since 1969. This school year, Hultgren will be completing his 55th and final year here at VWU.

Prior to coming to VWU, Hultgren received his master’s and PhD at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He has taught many different classes over the past 55 years and has always strived to be an active part of the campus community.

“I teach philosophy and environmental ethics courses,” Hultgren said. “I try to stay involved in the campus—for example, I’m a faculty athletic representative for the NCAA, so I do a lot of work with the athletic department and students.”

Hultgren practically built the Philosophy department as Virginia Wesleyan began expanding. He introduced various classes, most dealing with the philosophical questions that rise in any discipline.

“Philosophy is a very unique discipline. It’s a kind of discipline that really involves so many kinds of facets of our life,” Hultgren said. “[Philosophy] tries to work with those questions that emerge, not just in philosophy but emerge in life and emerge in so many other disciplines as well.”

While Hultgren has made a huge contribution to the field of philosophy, he has also touched the lives of thousands of students during his time here at VWU.

Hultgren has the reputation of a steady, companionable role model, impacting many fellow faculty members as well.

“Over a 55-year career, he has proven to be a steadfast and supportive presence and a role model for many,” Professor of Media and Communication Kathy Merlock Jackson said. “He was especially helpful to me when I began advising the Ethics Bowl team, coming in to talk to the students each fall and giving them new ways of thinking. Everyone loves Dr. Hultgren, who always knows exactly what to say and do to keep things on an even keel.”

Hultgren pictured in his office in his 55th year of teaching, 2023. VWU | Courtesy

Through the many years Hultgren has spent at VWU, he even made an impression on Virginia Wesleyan’s extended community.

“I remember my two-year-old son Nick being immediately drawn to him; a little child recognizes a good man, and Dr. Hultgren’s kindness and warmth radiate,” Merlock Jackson said.

While Hultgren has left a significant impact on the campus and community of Virginia Wesleyan, there is one value he hopes continues to make an impact.

“One of the values that I still think is so very important is to remind us that teaching is a real privilege,” Hultgren said. “The best dialogue is still going to come from you and I talking together.”

To Hultgren, teaching doesn’t even feel like a job.

“I’ve been here a long time. Happily, not that many students are falling asleep in my classes. And I still enjoy what I’m doing. It’s interesting. I’ve been very fortunate,” Hultgren said. “I think the very fact that we stayed here sort of this long, and I still get excited every day I come in, it still doesn’t feel like a job. It really doesn’t. And so maybe it’s a good thing to leave.”

There isn’t much of a plan for retirement, but the philosopher inside Hultgren can never stop thinking and growing.

“Maybe I’m not retiring, but am just going to rewire. Reread some of these things [gesturing around his office] again, and not having to just read them for class is going to be fun, and discovering some new things, getting a chance to travel to some places in September instead of having to wait until the summer,” Hultgren said.

Of course, there is one important issue to be solved before any deep reflection happens.

“Well, I think my wife has told me that the first project is going to be having to clean up my office. I’ve got more than this at home, and she says that’ll probably take the first year, so I probably won’t have to really worry,” Hultgren said.

Over the past 55 years, Hultgren has made a major impact on the community of Virginia Wesleyan University. Be sure to stop by 224 Blocker Hall sometime before the end of this school year to give your thanks; he’ll surely welcome you right in.


By Eliot Fylstra