Faculty & StaffTom Imhoff, Professor
(Ph.D. Stanford University)
Tom Imhoff's career as a professional philosopher can best be described as accidental. A graduate of Dunsmuir High School (Valedictorian of the largest class ever to graduate from Dunsmuir High School--62) in Northern California, he entered college in the fall of 1972 at California State University, Chico, declaring a major in Areospace Engineering. Unfortunately for Imhoff's career plans he could never figure out how to integrate in solving calculus problems. Imhoff decided to spend only a year at Chico, cutting his losses and heading back to Siskiyou county where he enrolled in the Community College in Weed 20 miles north of his hometown in order to try and figure out what course of study he wished to pursue. Studying pottery, guitar and auto mechanics (I'm not making this up.) in the shadow of Mt. Shasta inspired Imhoff to enroll in another Philosophy course---he had taken Critical Thinking while at CSUC from Richard Parker, presently a colleague of Imhoff's whose office is across the hall.
Yates Calvert Greer, the College of the Siskiyous' Philosopher in residence, converted Imhoff from Christian Fundamentalism to Philosophy. Imhoff went from preaching repentance to drunks on the streets of Dunsumir to trying to figure out Kantian metaphysics and Cartesian epistemology. Imhoff continued his academic career as a Philosophy major at California State University, Sacramento. During his senior year he married his college sweetheart and in 1979 the two of them headed off for a European honeymoon spending the next 9 months roaming around Western Europe. The Imhoff's next took up residence in Buffalo, New York, for two years where Imhoff earned a Master's degree in Philosophy writing a thesis on Socrates' defense of his refusal to obey the Athenian authorities and stop practicing philosophy in the market place---it seems Socrates' questions were embarrassing the Athenian notables.
It was 1982 and Ronald Reagan was flexing the U.S. military's nuclear muscle. Inspired by his wife, Diane's, concern for the kids at her elementary school (She had been teaching 1st grade for two years.), Tom and Diane headed to Washington, D.C., to protest the Reagan administration's nuclear saber rattling. The possibility of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union seemed all too immediate a threat. The Imhoff's both got arrested in a civil disobedient sit-in at the Pentagon and were sentenced to 100 hours of community service. At their trial Imhoff was able to explain to the Federal Judge in Alexandria, Virginia, how his work on the Apology of Socrates operated as the foundation for his act of civil disobedience: He and his fellow protesters could not sit by while our leaders risked, for reasons of state, the lives of 10s of millions of innocent civilians on both sides of the globe.
The Imhoff's returned to Sacramento to serve their sentence of community service and helped run out of a Catholic Worker house in downtown Sacramento what has now become the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen. Though Imhoff had converted from fundamentalism to philosophy he still holds on to his Roman Catholic roots. Tom and Diane were also each arrested two more times while in Sacramento for acts of civil disobedience blocking traffic going into Mather Air Force Base which then had a portion of a nuclear capable B-52 wing stationed there. Today the airbase doesn't even exist though the dissolution of the base has more to do with economics than with protests the Imhoffs helped to organize. In all Imhoff spent about 10 days in the Sacramento County and City jails. His jail time turned out to help him in his teaching career. Criminal Justice Ethics represents one of the courses Imhoff regularly teaches. The next page in this personal history was written by Imhoff's spouse, Diane. Afraid that she had married a bum---the marriage had lasted for 5 years but aside from a small graduate student stipend earned teaching critical thinking as a student in Buffalo, Imhoff had not earned a penny to support the family--- Diane enrolled at Sonoma State University where she earned a teaching credential to go with her English degree. Imhoff found out that a masters in philosophy was worse than useless in the minimum wage job market. He eventually stopped mentioning it when applying for work since employers didn't want someone "overqualified" for the position. He finally got a couple of jobs, one washing dishes by day and the other bussing tables by night at two of Santa Rosa's eating establishment---the Cookhouse (which I believe has since gone out of business) and the Highland House (which still overlooks Santa Rosa).
Imhoff continued reading Philosophy and thought he would give graduate school another try. A masters degree in philosophy is good, Imhoff found out, if one wants to continue one's schooling. This time around Diane demanded that he get into a program on the West Coast. Imhoff spent the next five years studying and writing (his Ph.D. dissertation argues for a contractualist basis for the human right to subsistence---those soup kitchen days made an impression), and even doing a year of teaching in the philosophy track of the Western Culture Program, at Stanford University. Finally, after 11 years of marriage Imhoff landed his first "real" job at California State University, Chico. He, Diane and their two sons continue to make Chico their home.