J. Walter Sterling, Dean
Penny Russell, Assistant to the Dean
Walter Sterling, dean of the Santa Fe campus, is a dyed in the wool Johnnie. His parents are both alumni of the Annapolis campus, and his father has been a member of the faculty there for the last 30 years. Mr. Sterling grew up in Maryland and Virginia and graduated from the Key School in Annapolis. He earned his bachelor of arts at the Annapolis campus, having spent his sophomore year in Santa Fe. He went on to earn his master of arts in philosophy from Emory University. After teaching philosophy at Temple University and Loyola College, he spent several years supervising adult education programs for Project H.O.M.E., a non-profit organization in Philadelphia that seeks to end homelessness by assisting people in mental-health and substance-abuse recovery with transitional and permanent housing. He counts this as one of the most important experiences of his life. He joined the faculty of St. John's College, Santa Fe, in 2003.
The dean is selected from the faculty every five years. The office is a hub for the academic, residential, and administrative life of the college. Because the dean will live with the decisions he makes while in that office after returning to the classroom, the office is designed to overcome the traditional dichotomy in academia between the intellectual life of the campus and the practical business of running a college. Mr. Sterling was named dean during his sabbatical year in 2010–2011, which he spent as a first-year law student at the University of New Mexico. He was considering completing his JD not principally to practice law but to test his mind in a new area and enjoy new experiences. Upon becoming dean, however, he returned to St. John's, and found what he'd learned in law school to be immediately useful in his new role.
Mr. Sterling is married with two young sons. He met his wife, a physical therapist, after moving to Santa Fe. He has always had a taste for languages and travel. He spent time in Italy during graduate school and was able to return to Rome a few years ago with his family to teach at the Rome Institute of Liberal Arts. He also spent a recent summer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem studying biblical Hebrew. He embraces paradox as essential to life and thought. In this spirit, he cites Niccolò Machiavelli of the Italian Renaissance and the post-World War II French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas as among the writers who have influenced him most—though he finds it hard to single out just these two since he, like all Johnnies, reads too widely to pick just one or two favorites. He looks to Machiavelli to understand better the original foundations of modern political life -- and to Levinas, who argued for a radical altruistic ethics as an antidote to modern totalitarianism, to revitalize our sense of individual freedom and moral responsibility. During his time as a tutor he has also become a great admirer of Homer, Aristotle, and Dante, among others. Mr. Sterling has given formal lectures at the college on Homer's presentation of mortality, on Levinas' ethical philosophy, on Machiavelli's comedies, on Aristotle's philosophy of friendship, and on having "time to think." Mr. Sterling is also an avid trail runner and a sometime marathoner and tri-athlete. He completed an Ironman Triathlon in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in 2006.
"I have gained this from philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law."