Noam Chomsky joins UA as laureate professor in linguistics department

John de Dios

Noam Chomsky outside of Old Main at the UA. Chomsky will join the university as a laureate professor for the linguistics department in the spring of 2018.

The University of Arizona announced the addition of renowned linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky to their faculty at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Aug 17.

In an email to faculty and staff, UA President Robert C. Robbins praised the addition of Chomsky, the most cited living author, to the university.

“Having a scholar of Dr. Chomsky’s caliber on our campus presents a tremendous opportunity for our students, faculty and staff, and truly speaks to the greatness of this university,” Robbins wrote.

Robbins listed Chomsky’s many accomplishments.

“Not only is Dr. Chomsky’s expertise in linguistics unmatched, he has also had incredible impact in the fields of cognitive science, philosophy, psychology, computer science, mathematics, childhood education and anthropology,” Robbins wrote. “He is also well known for his political commentary, and having him here will add to the diversity of thought and opinion we seek to foster on our campus.”

Chomsky, who taught a general education course “What Is Politics?” last semester, has regularly lectured on campus since his first appearance in 2012.

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According to John Paul Jones III, Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 6,000 people showed up to Centennial Hall, which only holds 2,500 people, to hear Chomsky’s lecture on higher education in 2012.

“After that lecture, I realized the tremendous interest in Chomsky among UA students and the Tucson community,” Jones said.

Drawn back to UA by strong connections in the Department of Linguistics, Chomsky will assume his part-time position as laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics this semester and begin teaching regularly in the spring semester.

“Chomsky established modern linguistics, He’s an awe-inspiring thinker,” Natasha Warner, head of the Department of Linguistics, told UANews.

“The opportunity for UA linguistics students to learn from him on a regular basis is simply astounding. I am especially excited about the opportunity for undergraduates to learn about language and linguistics from him,” Warner said.

Chomsky was also named Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice, a UA Foundation endowment program and the prime contributor to Chomsky’s salary.His spring course, What is Politics?, was attended by 550 individuals, half of which came from UA’s humanities seminar program with over 90 percent of the politically diverse participants saying they would retake the course, according to Jones.

“Student love learning from him,” Jones said.

While Chomsky will be an available resource for graduate students and may teach modules of graduate student courses, Chomsky has expressed a real interest and excitement to teach and engage with undergraduates on campus.

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“We felt that the UA would be a good place to work and think and interact with people we like and can work with,” Chomsky told UANews. “We fell in love with Tucson — the mountains, the desert, Tucson has an atmosphere that is peaceful and manageable.”

Next fall, Chomsky plans to teach a history of linguistics course, providing students a unique experience to learn from someone “who was there” throughout the development of the field he helped pioneer, Jones said.

“Twenty years from now, former undergraduates will be sitting around a table and someone will mention Noam Chomsky. A Wildcat will be able ‘Oh I took a class from him when I was an undergraduate,’ and they will think that is impossible, but not for a UA student.”

Chomsky’s impact reaches from his development of the algorithm “context-free grammar” found in many computers today to his commentary on current political affairs.

He has published over 100 books - beyond the seven biographies published on him - and regularly appears in the media.

Chomsky has been awarded the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences, the Helmholtz Medal and the Ben Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science, among other awards.

A true public intellectual, Chomsky is one of the many draws UA can offer to student, Jones said.

Chomsky will continue to hold public lectures on campus for the broader community.

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