Alumni Life: Faculty Fave

One for the Books

Alumni help document a prestigious professor’s impact

Barry Smith.  

By Sally Jarzab

Gloria Zúñiga y Postigo (PhD ’00) surprised her former adviser Barry Smith on his 65th birthday with cake, bubbly and a tradition particular to academia: a published volume of extolments known as a Festschrift, a word that roughly translates from the German as “written celebration.”

Barry Smith an Sich,” edited by Zúñiga y Postigo and Jerry Erion (PhD ’00), contains 11 essays contributed by former students and colleagues commending the philosopher, mathematician and scientist who made his mark as a leading thinker in the field of ontology—or, put simply, the study of reality.

Gloria Zúñiga y Postigo with the Festschrift she co-edited.

Zúñiga y Postigo cites Smith’s exceptional qualities as a professor and the effect they had on her as a student at UB. “His lectures were fascinating. Every class was a unique adventure in the world of ideas,” she says. “Jerry and I developed a good friendship on the basis of our discussions that followed our class meetings with Barry. With Barry, we not only learned philosophical ideas, we practiced philosophical analysis in class, and were inspired to continue our discussions in person afterward.

“Barry demanded clarity and depth in the papers from all students in his courses. He was no different in his role as director of my dissertation. I believe that all good professors must push students to reach beyond their expectations. What sets Barry apart, in my opinion, is that he has developed a phenomenological barometer for detecting when he needs to push hard and when he needs to guide with a softer hand,” says Zúñiga y Postigo.

Now an associate professor of philosophy at Ashford University who specializes in the ontology of economics, Zúñiga y Postigo credits Smith with influencing her own career. “Through his teaching, I discovered the power of ontology for any application of philosophy, and this is the path that I have followed.”

A SUNY Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and affiliate professor in the departments of neurology, biomedical informatics, and computer science and engineering, Smith helped to found the university’s Division of Biomedical Ontology. His work also was chronicled in “The Theory and Practice of Ontology,” a 2016 book edited by yet another grateful former student, Leo Zaibert (PhD ’97).

Tell us about your faculty fave.

How did a UB professor make a difference in your life? Email a brief account to facultyfave@buffalo.edu.