Boston University has (or in this case: had) quite a few hidden gems. This one was hidden in plain sight. Krzystof Michalski taught every other semester for the CAS Philosophy department, courses on Nietzsche (the subject of his last book), political philosophy, and other subjects. He was the kind of gem John Silber tended to recruit: mavericks, individualists, people with a point of view. Student learning meant to be exposed to such individuals, provide opportunity for intellectual engagement with people who were anything but routine academics, without sacrificing professionalism.
I met Kryzstof a few years ago during a strangely formal dinner at the home of Peter Berger. But he was an utterly informal individual. We sat on a PhD defense together, where he showed how one could be kind to a candidate and at the same time uncompromisingly incisive. I asked him to be a reader on another student’s dissertation prospectus and he agreed without fuss. He was a good colleague and a lovely man.
To gauge the loss we incur with his sudden passing, you can peruse the many obituaries that have appeared, some of which are listed on the website of the Institut für die Wissenschaft vom Menschen in Vienna that he founded and directed for many years. This was first and foremost a meeting point for intellectuals from both sides of the Iron Curtain to discuss the common heritage and common themes that prevailed beyond the ideological divisions then still prevailing. Many of our students were able to get a taste of the Institut’s atmosphere and the opportunities for intellectual exchange it afforded. We hope this relationship between Boston and Vienna will continue, even though an essential personal ingredient will be missing.