Mourning the loss of Dr. Lawrence Foster
Dr. Lawrence Foster, professor of philosophy emeritus, and former chair of the Department of Philosophy at UMass Boston from 1983 to 2002, died on June 25, 2023, at his home in Boston. He was 83.
The cause of death was complications from Parkinson’s disease, his family said.
In addition to his work in philosophy, Dr. Foster was a successful travel writer. He co-authored, with his wife Dr. Lynn V. Foster, Fielding’s guides to Mexico and Italy that went into multiple editions.
At UMass, Dr. Foster, who was known as Larry, was dedicated to teaching and embraced new approaches to university education. Richard Freeland, former dean of the UMass Boston College of Arts and Sciences and former president of Northeastern University, recalled him this way:
“As long-time chair of the Philosophy Department, Larry cultivated an emphasis on undergraduate teaching and learning, and more broadly promoted a student-centered culture that, while respectful of serious scholarship, resisted the central focus on faculty research that came to characterize the modern research university.”
During his years at UMass Boston, Dr. Foster developed the interdisciplinary Law and Justice program and directed it from 1976-1981. Over time, the program involved team teaching, 14 departments, 40 faculty members, and more than 1,000 students. Approaches like these “represented a more dramatic departure from the more traditional, discipline-specific curriculum favored by the university’s founders,” Freeland said.
Former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, who went to high school in Bayonne, New Jersey with Dr. Foster, also pointed to his excellence in teaching: “He made abstractions and ethical issues very real to urban students,” Frank said.
In recognition of the Law and Justice program’s innovations, the National Endowment for the Humanities appointed Dr. Foster to its National Board of Consultants from 1977 to 1986. In this position, he visited other universities to help implement programs such as Law and Justice.
Dr. Foster’s interest in teaching went beyond the academy. For six years, beginning in 1976, he taught philosophy weekly to inmates at MCI-Cedar Junction, the maximum-security state prison in Walpole.
Widely respected by his colleagues, Dr. Foster was elected chair of the Philosophy Department annually for 19 years. In that role, “Larry was responsible for a geniality and esprit de corps that were the envy of other philosophy departments,” said Jennifer Radden, who succeeded Dr. Foster as chair.
His philosophical publications covered topics ranging from pluralism, diversity, and multiculturalism to technical issues in analytic philosophy and the philosophy of science. He published in such major journals as the Journal of Philosophy, the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, and the American Philosophical Quarterly.
Dr. Foster and his wife loved travel and writing about it. He was especially passionate about Mexico. He co-authored, with Lynn Foster, Fielding’s Mexico (1984, with multiple additions until 1997), Fielding’s Italy (1991, with multiple editions until 1997) and Fielding’s Rome Agenda (1998). “Larry loved good food and delighted in discovering special restaurants to recommend,” Lynn Foster recalled. “Even his Spanish and Italian vocabularies were lopsided with food phrases so he could navigate menus with ease.” The couple lived for a period each year in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Dr. Foster was born in 1939 in Bayonne, New Jersey, to Esther and Herman Foster. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in 1961 and a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1966.
He began his teaching career at UMass Boston in 1974 after having spent eight years in the Philosophy Department at the UMass flagship campus in Amherst, where he received tenure in 1971.
In addition to his wife of 59 years, he leaves a brother, Howard Foster and Howard’s wife Virginia Fairweather of Wykoff, N.J., nephews Peter Graf Foster of San Francisco, and James Dehaven Foster and his wife Christina Foster of Arlington, MA., and their three children Jackson, Emmett, and Cali.
A celebration of his life and work will be held in the fall.
Contributions in his memory may be made to either The Oaxaca Learning Center or the U-ACCESS Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston.