Mourning a Colleague: Ben Kohl (1954-2013)
What follows is a tribute to Professor Ben Kohl of Geography and Urban Studies, written by Prof. Melissa Gilbert, chair of GUS. I was blessed to be Ben’s friend, and so I know that I am not the only person who will miss his sharp mind, ready wit, and big heart—and his commitment to making Temple, Bolivia, and all the other worlds he inhabited more humane places.
Ben’s sudden passing has spurred me to see if The Faculty Herald might not be a place where we can properly honor all of our departed colleagues in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, my first attempts to find a dependable source of this information have not been successful. But I am going to keep trying. If you have any suggestions about how to go about this, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I am grateful to Prof. Gilbert for granting The Herald permission to print her tribute to Ben.
Professor Benjamin Kohl, 1954-2013
The Department of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University is greatly saddened by the sudden death of our friend and colleague, Professor Ben Kohl. Ben died July 25 in Philadelphia of a heart attack. Many of you know Ben through his contributions to Latin American studies, international development, and urban studies across the disciplines of Planning, Geography, Anthropology, Politics, and Sociology. Ben was a phenomenal teacher, colleague, mentor, and friend. He cared deeply about students and was extremely supportive of junior faculty. Ben’s commitment to social justice permeated all aspects of his life and it is difficult to imagine the department without him.
Ben, along with his wife Linda Farthing, was one of the foremost experts on Bolivia and provided critical, rigorous, and creative work on many important debates over neoliberal governance, conflicts over natural resources, drug policy and social movements. He received his undergraduate degree in Anthropology from San Francisco State University in 1986, his MA in Engineering and Policy, Technology and Human Affairs from Washington University in 1992, and his PhD in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University in 1999. Ben and Linda moved to Bolivia in the 1980s and for the past 30 years have been living between La Paz and the US. Ben joined the department at Temple in 2001. Ben and Linda published From the Mines to the Streets: A Bolivian Activist's Life (with Felix Muruchi, 2011, University of Texas, Austin) and Impasse in Bolivia: Neoliberal Hegemony and Popular Resistance (2006, Zed Books, London). They have a forthcoming book about Evo Morales’ government and the process of change in Bolivia that will be published by the University of Texas Press. Information about Ben’s scholarship and publications can be seen on his website.
Ben’s contributions to the Department and Temple University are innumerable. He was most passionate about students—he served as Undergraduate Chair for four years and was recently serving as Graduate Chair. Ben made substantial and critical contributions to the curriculum. He was to his core an educator with the goal of challenging and empowering students. He was also generous with his time and support of his colleagues. Ben was unfailingly encouraging of junior scholars and saw one of his key roles to create an environment where they could flourish. Ben’s kindness, generosity, integrity, wit, infectious laugh and willingness to speak truth to power will be greatly missed.
Ben is survived by Linda, their children Minka and Maya with whom he was very close and extremely proud, and his extended family. In lieu of flowers, family ask that you consider making a donation to 20/20 Scholarships in memory of Professor Kohl. The 20/20 Scholarships provide assistance to Temple University students from the North Philadelphia neighborhoods surrounding Temple University.
To do so, click here, and select the "Other" option under Giving Information. Then type “20/20 Scholarships” into the text box. You may indicate that your gift is in memory of Professor Kohl by selecting that option below the text box and completing the form.
Checks made payable to Temple University with “Ben Kohl” in the memo line may be mailed to the CLA Development Office, 1234 Anderson Hall, 1114 West Berks Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19122-6090.
In honor of Ben’s contributions, the Department of Geography and Urban Studies has established an annual Benjamin H. Kohl Social Justice Lecture. The first annual lecture will be held on October 21 from 1-3:30PM at the 1810 Conference Suite at 1810 Liacouras Walk. Felix Muruchi Poma’s presentation is entitled, “Bolivia’s Process of Social Change.” •