School grieves professor, activist, mentor

By Elizabeth Zakaim
Reviews Editor

The College mourns the passing of Morton Winston, a professor of philosophy who died while on vacation in Peru on Jan. 13 at 67 years old. Winston suffered from a heart attack while walking with his family and tour group on a jungle path in Peru, according to the Baltimore Sun. Winston was a beloved professor, colleague and mentor — he leaves behind a legacy of excellence.

According to an email sent to staff, students and faculty on Jan. 14 by College spokesperson Dave Muha, Winston arrived at the College in 1979, where he taught and developed several courses including bioethics, genocide and human rights and philosophy of technology and mind. Winston was dedicated to his teaching and his department.

Before he passed Winston served as a faculty representative to the Board of Trustees and as chair of the philosophy department from 1982 to 1988 and from 2005 to 2012,  according to Muha’s email. Winston was also the recipient of the Faculty Senate’s Outstanding Faculty Leadership Award for service as faculty co-chair of the Committee on Strategic Planning and Priorities and for leading the development of the College’s strategic plan in 2011 and 2012.

Winston wanted his students to succeed to the best of their abilities. 

Winston leaves a legacy, both on campus and across the globe. (Courtesy of tcnj.edu)
Winston leaves a legacy, both on campus and across the globe. (Courtesy of tcnj.edu)

“Dr. Winston had a unique ability to empathize with his students’ ideas and galvanize those ideas into something legitimate and concrete,” said Rishabh Sharma, a junior philosophy major.

Sharma recalled bumping into Winston on campus after studying abroad in 2016. They talked about Sharma’s future plans, and Winston recommended different readings he knew Sharma would appreciate. He challenged his students’ perspectives and tested their beliefs. Sharma described Winston as selfless and determined to help his students mold their visions and change the world.

“He is one of the few people I have met who believed in me like I believe in me,” Sharma said.

Junior philosophy major Stephanie-Rose Orlando couldn’t believe the news. She had Winston as a professor every year since she started at the College. He was more than just a professor to her, he was her mentor, as well.

“He helped me discover my love for civil rights and environmental protection, and I will always be thankful for that,” Orlando said. “Not only did he encourage me to make a difference in the way I wanted, but he really believed that I could and helped me along the way.”

Orlando said Winston was always willing to network with students to give them the best opportunities they deserved.

“He was the type of professor that helped make TCNJ as great as it is,” she said.

Junior philosophy major Lisa Palacio was a first-semester sophomore who had just changed her major from mathematics to philosophy and was grateful to have Winston as her adviser.

“I wasn’t just another student he had to talk academics and class scheduling about,” Palacio said. “He sat with me for however long it took to figure out what steps I needed to take to graduate on time.”

Palacio ran into Winston while he was eating lunch in Green Hall after he had helped give her pointers on a presentation she had worked on for his class.

“In that moment, I really got to know Dr. Winston,” Palacio said. He spoke about his wife and children, and Palacio

could tell how devoted he was to them.

“It was so nice to get to know Dr. Winston outside of the academic sphere,” Palacio said. “Not only was he a great scholar, teacher and humanitarian, but he was a loving husband and father.”

Palacio was a student in Winston’s ethics class and recalls how passionate her professor was about the subject.

“He made me realize that the issues we are fighting in this world are put on by us, and we need to work together to sort out the troubles of this world in order to make a better tomorrow,” Palacio said.

Rabbi Akiva Greenbaum, an adjunct professor in philosophy, religion and classical studies and Chabad rabbi at the College, developed a great relationship with Winston and was upset to hear of his passing. Winston was both a neighbor and a close friend who was often invited to the Rabbi’s house for dinner and conversation.

“Mort Winston or ‘Mordechai’ as he referred to himself when he came to Chabad events, was a TCNJ legend, my personal mentor and a proud Jew,” Greenbaum said. “He has joined Chabad for Shabbat meals and services, holiday programs and even came to the recent bris of my son.”

Greenbaum described how proud Winston was of his Jewish heritage, particularly the religion’s focus on ethics and morality.

“We grew very close and would often have deep theological, philosophical conversations,” Greenbaum said. “We are thinking about and praying for his wife Sally, his children and friends at this difficult time.”

Greenbaum added that he would like to plan something in Winston’s honor in order to keep his memory alive.

Emyr Dakin, an adjunct professor in philosophy, religion and classical studies, had not been at the College long when he developed a close bond with Winston.

“It wasn’t too long ago that I popped my head around Professor Winston’s office door to introduce myself,” Dakin said. “I immediately felt that he was someone that I could get on with.”

Winston had invited him into his office to chat. The picture on Winston’s wall called “The Mask of Agamemnon,” an ancient artifact from the Mycenaean Age, sparked a conversation between the two scholars that Dakin still remembers fondly today.

“This is the man I briefly knew,” Dakin said. “Deeply intelligent, yet very warm and sharing. A great loss to students, colleagues and friends.”

Winston was both a friend and a scholar. According to Muha’s email, his scholarship included his membership of the editorial boards of two leading human rights journals, Human Rights Quarterly and the Journal of Human Rights. He is the author of many published works — his work has been cited 988 times to date — and he edited a renowned textbook on the philosophy of human rights in 1989.

Winston was also an avid human rights activist. Winston led the South Africa Country Group for Amnesty International USA, an organization that exposes and prevents human rights abuses, in the late 1980s, Muha’s email wrote. He also founded their Business and Human Rights program, which works on holding different companies across multiple nations accountable for human rights.

In a statement by Amnesty International, Board Chair Ann Burroughs said the organization is deeply indebted to him for his contributions to the movement. The organization described him as a passionate advocate of human rights, unable to stay silent in the face of injustice.

In 1999, according to the email released, Winston also served as part of Social Accountability International, which ensured the rights of people in the workplace. He was in the midst of his third year as chair of the board of directors for Social Accountability Accreditation Services. In 2007, he chaired the Danish Institute of Human Rights in Copenhagen, and received a scholarship for his successes there and in South Africa in 1992 and Thailand in 1999.

Consuelo Preti, a professor of philosophy, religion and classical studies at the College, appreciated Winston’s dedication to justice and good will.

“Winston was always very real. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind or stand up for what he believed in, and he was passionate about social justice,” Preti said.

She recalled her first and favorite memory of him, when he was interviewing her for her job here at the College.

“The question he asked me was the best one that I’ve ever gotten in an interview: ‘What was the worst experience you have had in the classroom teaching philosophy? Why, and what did you do about it?’ I had to stop and think about it,” she said. “It made the interview process so much more real and interesting.”

Amidst all of his accomplishments, Preti said she would miss the little things about him.

“His office was right next to mine, and the thing I think I will miss the most is the sound of his laugh whenever we talked about something funny,” Preti said.

Melinda Roberts, a philosophy professor, shared a fond memory of her colleague. Winston offered her suggestions of ways to improve an informal presentation she had given. His suggestion really made Roberts think critically about not just her presentation, but the philosophy behind it. During her presentation on WWII, Roberts made a statement saying that had the war never taken place, neither she nor Winston would have existed.

Winston corrected her statement by suggesting she say that had the war not taken place, “then very probably Mort and I would never have existed,” she said. That correction set her thinking deeply about the probability of her and Winston’s existence.

“Mort’s insistence on precision — and perhaps his own deep understanding of the problem I was trying to analyze — led him to ask me the right question at the right time,” Roberts said. “And he often did that, far more often than almost anyone else I know.”

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