A scholar who learns from shopping malls

Looking at his list of publications, you might mistake Michael K. Hooker for an ivory-towered academic philosopher. He is the editor of books on Descartes and Leibniz. His first published essay was titled ``In Defense of the Principle for Deductibility of Justification.'' He later wrote a chapter titled ``Deducing and Explaining the Character of Substance'' for a book on Spinoza. In fact, however, Dr. Hooker, the lively new chancellor of the University of Maryland's sprawling Baltimore County campus, wears his scholarship gracefully -- and applies it to everything he sees. ``I'm a student of contemporary culture,'' Hooker confesses. ``Not only do I like shopping malls, but I love to pick up fundamentalist preachers on the radio.'' Why? Because ``it tells me so much about society and about people, what they're thinking.''

What people are thinking -- and how they think -- has fascinated Hooker for years. Born in the mountains of southwestern Virginia just after World War II -- ``my grandfather was a farmer, a common laborer,'' he says, and ``my daddy was a coal miner'' -- he graduated with highest honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1969.

After earning a PhD in philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, he went on to teach at Harvard and the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he moved into academic administration in 1977. As president of Bennington College in Vermont from 1982 to this year, he fought off a serious financial crisis at that private liberal arts school.

His interest in biotechnology (a ``strong'' field at the Baltimore County campus, he says) and his interest in Washington-based politics led him back to Baltimore, where he hopes to see his campus ``become the model university of the 21st century.'' Married in 1968, he has a five-year-old daughter.

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