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Robert Baker papers

Identifier: SCA-1183

Scope and Contents

The collection contains the professional papers and publications of Professor of Philosophy and Bioethics, Robert Baker. The materials cover his academic career in Bioethics and contain various course materials, writings as well as underground newspapers covering his involvement in the protest movement during the Vietnam War. Publications include monographs, reports and articles that Baker authored, edited or contributed to.


  • Creation: 1959 - 2020


Biographical Note

Robert Baker was born on December 5, 1937 in the Bronx, New York.

He received his PhD in philosophy in 1967 from the University of Minnesota, whose Philosophy of Science Center was directed by a logical positivist, Viennese Professor Herbert Feigl. From 1965-1969 Baker taught philosophy at the University of Iowa, another logical positivist enclave. He was elected President of the Iowa Philosophical Society but he also continued his involvement with the anti-war, civil rights, and women’s liberation movements and began to publish in the underground press using pen names as well as in philosophical journals. In 1969 as the university terminated his contract, Baker received a summer fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to assist his transition from metaethics to applied ethics.

On moving to Detroit, Baker joined Wayne State faculty responding to a manifesto from "rioters" requesting foundation of a community college to meet the needs of Detroit's inner city residents. In addition to teaching at Wayne State he taught at night at inner city high schools, pro bono, until a community college was founded. He also worked with and wrote for non-violent anti-war, civil rights, and feminist groups under pen names. With fellow Wayne faculty member, psychiatrist Paul Lowinger, he served on a state taskforce on drug addiction that urged treating opiate addiction, as an illness, not a crime.

In May 1970 Baker joined faculty and students at Wayne State protesting the US invasion of Cambodia. Urging non-violence he interceded with authorities to prevent a recurrence of the National Guard's killing student protestors at Kent State. Wayne State terminated the contracts of all faculty involved in the strike.

He was part of the practical ethics movement of the 1970s, contributing pioneering essays and anthologies on the philosophy of sex and pioneering the field of bioethics by co-editing, editing, and writing books on the history of medical ethics. Baker came to Union College in 1973. At Union he led in the formation of a joint program BS-MS-MD with Albany Medical College and Union Graduate College (now Clarkson University), founded a term abroad to study national healthcare systems, directed an Ethics Across the Curriculum program, led an initiative to restore an honor code at Union, and founded a bioethics masters program, (now with Clarkson and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai). He also founded an affinity group on history of medical ethics in the American Society for Bioethics and the Humanities (ASBH), and led the effort to develop an ASBH code of ethics for healthcare ethics consultants.

His career took a new trajectory in 1974 when he was recruited by the American Philosophical Association’s Council of Philosophical Studies to participate in an 8-week Institute on Medicine and Morality, that was designed to train philosophers to participate in the emerging field that came to called bioethics. There followed an invitation to write chapters for a foundational Encyclopedia of Bioethics, and a series of grants and invitations followed. In the 1980s Baker’s bioethics publications were limited to specialized bioethics or sexual ethics publications; by the 1990s his publications appeared in more widely read journals; some were cited as outstanding contributions to the literature. He chaired or co-chaired the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) affinity group on the history of medical ethics since founding it in 1998, and co-lead an ASBH initiative to formulate a code of ethical conduct for healthcare ethics consultants from 2005 to a code’s adoption in 2013. He became a Hastings Center Fellow in 2014.

At Union Baker founded a medical term abroad, co-developed a joint BS-MD program with Albany Medical College in 1978, set up Union’s institutional research ethics committee in 1982, initiated a Computer Humanities Project that made national news (1984-1988), set up a bioethics master’s program at Union’s graduate school (2003-2015) now with Clarkson and Mt. Sinai (NYC), directed an Ethics Across the Curriculum initiative (2005-2018, materials donated), and directed an initiative to resurrect Union’s Honor Code (2006-2015). He retired in 2020.


2 Boxes

1.68 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



Series I, Professional papers, 1967-2020. Series II, Publications, 1959-2018.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Robert Baker in August, 2020.

Robert Baker papers
Matthew Golebiewski
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and Archives Repository

Union College
807 Union Street
Schenectady NY 12308 United States