Texas Tech University

A Half-Century of Service

Glenys Young

April 4, 2022

Kenneth Ketner

Kenneth Ketner is celebrating his 50th year at Texas Tech.

Length of Service Honorees: Philip Marshall and Kenneth Ketner

Six decades ago, Kenneth Laine Ketner first heard the name that would transform his life: Charles Sanders Peirce.

Ketner was a master's student of philosophy at Oklahoma State University when one of his professors introduced him to the works of Peirce – pronounced “purse” – a 19th-century physicist, mathematician, logician and engineer, and arguably one of the greatest interdisciplinary scientists in history.

After earning a second master's degree and nearly finished with his doctorate in philosophy, Ketner arrived at Texas Tech University in 1971, ready to begin his professional career in academia. But it wasn't long before Peirce resurfaced in his life.

Together with Charles Hardwick, chairman of the philosophy department and the university's vice-president for academic affairs, Ketner helped create the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism and became its founding director. The center focuses on interdisciplinary research, taking inspiration from Peirce's studies.

“Peirce developed a well-worked-out approach for aiding the sciences and the arts to share interdisciplinary research progress,” Ketner explained. “That is an inspiring project to study.”

So inspiring, it seems, that Ketner's academic life has revolved around it. Even though he retired as director in 2019, he continues his research and study to this day. Ketner is celebrating his 50 years at Texas Tech.

In honor of this milestone, Texas Tech conducted a Q&A with Ketner.

In what positions/roles have you served while at Texas Tech? Can you describe some of the things you've done at Texas Tech both professionally and personally?

After a long dry summer drive from the University of California-Santa Barbara to the welcoming fountains at Texas Tech, my wife, Berti, and I arrived to begin an assistant professorship in philosophy. Within short order, my chairman, Charles Hardwick, and I developed the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism that focused on interdisciplinary research by way of inspiration of the studies of the interdisciplinary physicist and logician, Charles Sanders Peirce.

By 1976, this institute – now composed of several local, national and international cooperating research professors – organized two International Congresses on Peirce's works: the 1976 Amsterdam Peirce International Congress (about 100 participants), facilitated by the U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands as his bicentennial event, and the 1989 C.S. Peirce Sesquicentennial Congress (300 participants) held at Harvard University as a joint project of Harvard and Texas Tech. From these events, and from our research at Texas Tech over the years, quite a few books appeared through our institute's publication series – Peirce Studies – and through Texas Tech University Press and other university presses and academic publishers.

During the 1990s, I received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship to support writing a biographical work on Peirce entitled, “His Glassy Essence.” In 1999, I was appointed as a Paul W. Horn Distinguished Professor, which has been a memorable honor.

Did you ever imagine being at Texas Tech this long?

Texas Tech University is an oasis in the midst of a semi-arid land. It's good to be helping here as long as possible.

What's the secret to maintaining a career for so long? Any advice for someone who is just starting their career at Texas Tech?

Texas Tech is a unique institution with an ongoing intent to increase service to Texas and the wider world.

What kinds of changes have you seen during your time at Texas Tech?

I recall rather personalized registration events in the now razed “big brown dome” basketball arena during the 1970s. All the colleges and departments lined up at tables in the big hall. It was not digitalized; however, personal service and cooperation made the process happen.

What have you enjoyed the most about being a Red Raider?

As a U.S. Army veteran, I have always felt inspired when walking across Memorial Circle.

Do you have a favorite Texas Tech memory or tradition?

The stone on the northeast corner of the Administration building is a significant spot where Texas Tech was set into motion. It also records in the rededicating plaque that the campus moved from College to University to System in a remarkably few number of years.

What does being a Red Raider mean to you?

Texas Tech University – and now the Texas Tech University System – has become a leading international teaching and research asset for the state, nation and world.

What are your plans for the future?

After retirement, I have been allowed to keep an office and continue my research activities as an ongoing colleague in the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism, an interdisciplinary research facility that has also developed over the past half-century. Research is its own reward.

For more on Ketner and his longstanding dedication to the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism, click here.