Dinner with Jenny Keefe

Bonnie Alger

At first glance, Lawrence Fellow in Philosophy Jenny Keefe fits right into the everyday crowd. Donning a black peacoat, this petite woman is braced for the harsh impending winter of Wisconsin. As soon as she speaks, however, one is caught off guard by her lovely Scottish accent.
Keefe was raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, and attended the University of Aberdeen, a two-hour car ride from her home. She notes that this may seem close by American standards, but that that distance is a trip to the Scottish. Unlike the university and liberal arts education systems in the United States, Aberdeen students take three different courses in their first year of study, and begin specializing in one area during their third year. It was during her college years that Keefe discovered the subject of philosophy. “I had applied for psychology [major], and took English and philosophy as my other two first-year subjects. I liked these better,” she says.
In Scotland, thesis work is mostly completed on one’s own time, as opposed to years of graduate work leading up to a dissertation, hence Keefe finished her thesis about a week before arriving here. The Lawrence fellowship is a perfect fit for her, as it allows her to teach while continuing her research. She is currently teaching Freshman Studies. “I like it a lot. I think I’ll find the music section more challenging than others,” she says of Lawrence’s staple course for first-year students.
Her thoughts on Lawrence so far? “Sizewise it’s 10 times smaller [than Aberdeen]. There are no liberal arts colleges in the United Kingdom. Liberal arts is new to me – a really valuable base in education. I like teaching Freshman Studies, and [I like the] others in the philosophy department, and the faculty in general.” She also likes Bj”rklunden a lot, and exclaims, “I’ve never seen a lake that big before! It’s like the Mediterranean.” A new job in a new place also came with some anxieties. “When I first got here, I locked myself out of Main Hall and had to call security to let me back in,” she laughs. Keefe was also taken by surprise by the local wildlife. “I was a little anxious about the raccoons,” she admits. “We don’t have animals like that where I’m from.”
Since she doesn’t drive, Keefe lives within walking distance of campus. She enjoys taking jogs by the river, but not with a dog. “I don’t have a dog. I’m more of a cat person,” she says. She also likes watching movies.
Her post-Lawrence goal is to hold a full-time academic position where she can teach and research. She hopes to focus on early British idealism, which she considers to be an “important but under-researched part of history.”
Keefe will teach Common Sense Philosophy next term, and Absolute Idealism in the spring.