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UVU philosopher was a 'public intellectual'

Published December 30, 2013 7:10 pm

UVU professor, who was esteemed for his work in environmental ethics, remembered as a "public intellectual."
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah Valley University professor David Keller had a knack for teaching philosophy in an accessible way and communicating with people across the ideological spectrum.

Keller, the 51-year-old director of the UVU Center for Ethics, died Saturday of a fast-moving cancer brought on by radiation therapy used to treat Hodgkin's disease 30 years ago, according to his self-penned obituary. He started his studies at the University of Utah while he was still recovering and went on to Franklin and Marshall College followed by Boston College for a master's degree and the University of Georgia for a doctorate.

After a childhood spent hiking and camping in the redrock country of Utah, Keller focused his academic career on environmental ethics.

"He was a real explorer as a child, he used to take his bicycle apart and put it back together again," said his father, Richard Keller.

In his work, David Keller advocated for philosophers, scientists and policymakers to work together for environmental stewardship, said Brian Birch, associate vice-president for academic affairs at UVU.

"David was a public intellectual," Birch said, participating in debates like "Is God necessary for ethics?" His own opinions, though, weren't the subjects of his university lectures.

"He always said it wasn't his job to convince his students of his point of view, but to give them a broad understanding of various points of view," said Richard Keller. In his 18 years at UVU, David Keller brought lofty ideas down to earth, said philosophy professor Elaine Englehardt.

"He helped students understand the most difficult of philosophical ideas," she said. "He had the ability to explain simply what he was trying to say."

As director at the Center for Ethics, David Keller attracted speakers ranging from Ralph Nader to Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

"I just feel like David created one of the stellar programs in the country," Englehardt said. The high-profile visitors often stayed to give students advice. "I think he helped the rest of the university grow up," she said.

Keller also founded a chapter of the American Association of University Professors union — one that now bears his name — advocating for professors and bringing attention to the issue of low-paid adjuncts while maintaining a good relationship with the UVU administration.

"They respected David and his analysis of a situation. He didn't do anything outrageous or unfair ... and was clear-minded," Englehardt said. "When David made a friend, he kept that friend. He really had good ideas."

Keller is survived by his wife, Anina Merrill, brother Peter Keller and sister Christene Keller-Ensign. Funeral arrangements are pending.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst