Krzysztof Michalski brought a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to the Boston University philosophy department, said Veronica Little, one of his political philosophy students.
“He brought a different cultural aspect to it because he had spent time teaching in Europe and lived there obviously for a long time — he could compare how Americans handled certain philosophy versus Europeans,” Little, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said.
Michalski died at the age of 64 of an unknown disease Sunday in Vienna, according to a BU philosophy department press release.
Little, who took a class with Michalski in the fall 2012 semester, said he had a dry wit, a deep passion for philosophy and a unique teaching style.
“We would have readings for the class, and he would just sit down in front of us and we’d all be circled around him and we would just talk about it,” she said. “He would engage everyone and get everyone’s take on the readings we would do.”
Tala Khalaf, a College of Communication sophomore, said Michalski was dedicated to his students, even after he took a leave of absence near the end of the fall 2012 semester.
“I really didn’t expect him to be so readily available to us considering how sick he was,” Khalaf said. “It was amazing how quickly he was responding to our emails and helping us with our essays.”
Institute for Philosophy and Religion Director Allen Speight said Michalski will be remembered for starting the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.
“It allowed our graduate students to go spend a semester or even a year in Vienna in their offices,” he said. “The institute always brought in very high-powered speakers from the world of politics, art and religion.”
Michalski always ensured the institute held regular colloquia and symposia devoted to topics on European future, Speight said.
“This really followed his interest as someone who has grown up and been educated in Poland,” he said. “He had this sense of the importance of shaping a new Europe and a new world after the fall of the Soviet Union.”
Speight said Michalski will be remembered fondly for his Nietzsche class, which drew the attention of many BU philosophy students.
Michalski, who began teaching at BU in 1989, was a cherished member of the BU philosophy community, said Provost Jean Morrison in an email.
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to Dr. Michalski’s family and loved ones,” Morrison said. “Dr. Michalski’s contribution to cultural exchange and to the teaching and study of philosophy — both here and throughout central and eastern Europe — was substantial.”
David Roochnik, philosophy department chair and professor of philosophy, said Michalski’s legacy extends beyond Boston, as The Institute for Human Sciences was an extremely important institution and played a small role in the fall of communism in Europe.
“Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the end of communism in Europe, Vienna was really the midpoint between Eastern and Western Europe,” Roochnik said. “His institute was very important in bringing western culture, western intellectualism to Eastern Europe because it was the one city where many of them could visit.”
Lauren McNelley, a CAS sophomore, said she was thankful to have had Michalski, who was a lively and engaging teacher.
She said during class, he used to tell students the importance of never blindly accepting anything without careful consideration first.
“He would say as long as you’re thinking, you can’t be wrong,” she said. “The only time you were wrong was when you just accepted what people told you without questioning it.”