Remembering Prof. Devlin

In response to the news that Professor James Devlin, a founding member of the Core and a beloved part of the campus community, passed away earlier this week, many alumni wrote in to express their appreciation for him, as a teacher, a mentor, and a friend. Prof. Jorgensen will be forwarding these and other messages that come in through the Core office to the Devlin family. An obituary appears at the website of Eaton & Mackay funeral home.

  • I never had Prof Devlin as an instructor, was never in his section while taking the Core. The only experiences I had with him were in the large lectures. However, he delivered the most memorable lecture I ever heard in college. It was the very first session of the Core Curriculum. I actually think it was the first class I attended in college. Coming from a very small religious high school, a lecture hall was a new phenomenon for me, and the concepts were brand new as well. I remember Prof Devlin getting up and, in his usual booming voice, going on and on about the word “Word”. It was a show of intellectual gymnastics, the likes of which I had never seen. I was fascinated, incredibly excited and, I must admit, somewhat intimidated. But I thought to myself, if this is what college is like, I am going to love it! He introduced me to a rich world of study, and I will be forever grateful.
    Rachel Kohl Finegold, CAS ’03
  • Professor Devlin was regarded by all of us who were students in the Core as a fixture of the University. I wish to express my deepest sympathy for your loss, but I also desire to say to you that he did not teach, he shaped and challenged his students, and I am certain that I speak for many people when I say that he will live on in the legacy of the Core, the University, and every student who now approaches his or her job in the way that he challenged to read every single word and question it.
    Philip Nichols, CAS ’01
  • This is sad news. I remember Professor Devlin well, he was magnificently terrifying and inspirational and dedicated to making his students question given knowledge and challenge assumptions. He was hugely influential to me, to this day. I still think about his towering figure, his unwavering and intense gaze, and his extremely physical teaching manner. I used to bring guests to his Core Curriculum class just so they could benefit from his lectures, and we would talk about the philosophical questions raised for hours afterward. My time at BU would not have been the same without Professor Devlin, and would have been far less interesting. It is hard to believe he is not with us because he seemed immortal.
    Nathaniel Bradley, CAS ’94
  • Professor Devlin made a significant impact on my life. I fondly remember looking forward to his dramatic and intellectually stimulating lectures – more so than any other during my time at BU. I feel so very privileged to have been under his tutelage.
    Gregory Wertsch, CAS ’00
  • I am so sorry to see this news. Prof. Devlin was indeed a very interesting individual and even though it has been 12 years since I was a student in Core, I still remember his thought provoking lectures. Most of my memories of Core include him and I am so sorry to see that he has passed on. My thoughts will be with his family and friends during this time. I am sorry that I live so far away and will not be able to express my sympathies in person. Thinking of Prof. Devlin will always bring back very fond memories of my years as a student in and videographer for the Core Curriculum.
    Melissa Waelchli (née Sapienza), CAS ’00
  • This is such sad news. I adored Professor Devlin. I still think of his lectures to this day. I’ll never forget his entertaining rants. My wife, Kate Flaim (née Bonamici, COM ’01) also had Professor Devlin for a logic course. She was so sad to hear the news as well. He taught so many students so well. When I think of the highlights of my BU education, he always comes to mind.
    Ben Flaim, CAS ’00
  • Extremely saddened by the news of Professor James Devlin’s passing. He was an incredible mentor and defined what Core was about for me in many ways. My deepest sympathy goes to his family and his Core colleagues and friends.
    — Monica Scott (née Florescu), CAS ’99
  • I was saddened to receive this news and want to send my condolences along to Professor Devlin’s family as well as to everyone in Core. He was an amazing professor and his lectures were among the most inspiring and stimulating moments I had at BU. He will be truly missed.
    Johanna Brewer, CAS ’02
  • Professor Devlin was one of my favorite philosophy professors, I’ll never forget having to write a Marxist and Freudian analysis of Pretty Woman and American Psycho. I can honestly say that he taught me how to analyze and break down arguments in philosophy and the social sciences.
    Stephanie Ramones, CAS ’10
  • I wish that I lived in Boston so I could properly express my sympathy. Professor Devlin was not my seminar professor, however his Core lectures were some of the most profound and memorable. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and esteemed colleagues.
    Cynthia Morse (née Levinson), CAS ’01
  • My sincerest condolences to Prof. Devlin’s family and to the Core family. Prof. Devlin’s lively lectures and thought provoking discussions will be greatly missed. I feel privileged to have had him as my instructor.
    — Ayrin Zahner, CAS ’03
  • I just received the sad news of Prof. James Devlin’s passing. I recall that, after his class each evening, my friend and I would continue our debates from class, loudly and animatedly, from the classroom, across the street to Warren Towers and the dining hall, and all the way through dinner. No other teacher made thinking that enjoyable and that imperative. He will be missed.
    Marie McCarthy (née Ziemer), CAS ’95
  • Thank you, Professor Devlin, for being my favorite professor – ever. You may not have realized it at the time, but you are one of the reasons why I did not give up on college during my first semester. I did not fully appreciate the concept of gnothi seauton until you became my teacher. I will never forget your kindness, generosity, and absolutely insane (but brilliant) approach to exploring a liberal arts education. Much love always.
    — Kimberly Santo, SED ’00
  • I would like to present my sincere condolences to the Core Curriculum faculty and staff and to the Devlin family. The passing of a kindred spirit is not without sadness and loss. I rejoice in his life and am honored to have had the privilege to partake in Professor Devlin’s very memorable lectures and debates. I can only smile when I think about his unique teaching style and often, jocular requests.  Exercises, like “please write a 250-word essay on this topic without using any words that contain the letter A,” continue to force me consider my choice of words, even today. Unforgettable discussions about the Bhagavad-Gita, Plato, and (my favorite) Descartes, allowed us to contemplate so many aspects of life, its meaning, and what is beyond this life. Professor Devlin will be greatly missed.
    Kim Chen-Bayle, CAS ’98
  • Prof. Devlin was an incredibly smart and humorous man– – he brought so much life and joy and wit and intellectual momentum to the classroom. He was a humble genius, and gave so much to the Core Curriculum and the greater BU community. I will keep his family and colleagues in my thoughtsand thank him again for passing along his wisdom.
    Devone Tucker, CAS ’99


Jim Farmelant posted on November 19, 2010 at 9:35 pm

While Professor Devlin will probably be best remembered for his teaching in the Core Curriculum, it should also be noted that for many years he taught courses in computer programming and software development at the BU Corporate Education Center, which enable many people to enter into new careers as programmers or software engineers. Most of the accolades to the quality of his teaching in the Core Curriculum are also applicable to the quality of his teaching at the Corporate Education Center.

Kiel harkness posted on December 17, 2010 at 9:36 pm

An amazing man, whom i think of always, and so will i continue. I miss him greatly.

Liz Jones-Dilworth posted on January 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Many of the remembrances here resonate with me. Since hearing of his death, I keep remembering the delight that Prof. Devlin took in President Clinton’s sophistry (My first semester of Core was 1998). He would waggle his eyebrows and pause dramatically whenever he made the comparison between Clinton and the sophists. I think he was pleased with himself and his clever comparisons. I know I found them very shocking as a naive 18 year old. 😉

Prof. Devlin was good at saying shocking things that were also very insightful. It wasn’t all flash with him, although there was plenty of flash.

Fima Furman posted on February 13, 2019 at 11:42 am

I was saddened to learn of Prof. Devlin passing 9 years after it happened and 20 years after taking his advanced C++ programming class at BU Corp Education center. His lectures made a lasting personal impression on me. The course made a huge impact on my career. I remember how I was looking forward to his lecturers. What an amazing man. I am sure a lot of his former students owe him a lot in relation to their success and have great memories about his humility, humor, and fresh intelligence.

Fivos Kiousopoulos posted on January 15, 2022 at 4:48 pm

How sad to hear that Dr. Devlin has passed away. He was a larger than life, kind hearted genius.
I was an international student and his was one of my introductory classes when I came to the US. His lectures were just incredible, a real million dollar show! You were learning while having a ball with his great sense of humor.
Forever grateful!

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