And that he does. On most cold days, you can see him wearing an array of beanies. “Is that a professor or a student?” you may wonder. He’s a professor in the philosophy and religion department.
“I do the international trips to Asia,” said Mullis. “I started going to China when I was in grad school [because] in grad school they made you take a language and I picked Chinese for some odd reason.”
He spent six months in Tai Pei in during graduate school, and the following summer he spent in Beijing. This summer, Mullis and Dr. Sarah Griffith of the history department will be returning to hike sacred mountains in China, as Mullis did two years ago. Asia is one of his passions.
“To go with students who are also interested is very cool,” he said.
And that is why he teaches. It was not his plan A, however.
He was originally a psychology major at Winthrop University, but he enjoyed the philosophy courses more, so he double majored. Asking himself what else one could do with a philosophy degree other than go to graduate school, he ended up at the University of South Carolina at Columbia.
“I fell in love,” he remembered, “because I really got to experiment. I liked how philosophy could help you understand your experience … and yourself.”
It was also there that he was assigned as a student teacher. He was terrified.
“When it went really well, I felt like people took something from the class and learned to think differently,” he explained as his reason for becoming a professor.
Unlike high school teachers, college professors do not sleep under their desks, he says. They do have outside lives. Mullis, for instance, is also a musician. A drummer, to be exact.
Why the drums?
“I started playing drums when I was 10, and I can’t really say why. I was just listening to music and got in my mind I thought I’d play drums,” he said.
Dr. Kara Wooten of the theatre department learned about his talents when the two went on a John Belk International Program trip to China together. She invited him to play in the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s band and he accepted.
Young Mullis learned drums from the music instructor at church. In college, he studied jazz. For a while, he studied West African drums, too.
In the end, he returned to mostly jazz music. For several years, he has played with the jazz fusion band Chemist.
He also works with the Triptych Collective, a performing arts group that combines modern dance and music. Last year, he began making performance art with them. This performance arts group combines two of Mullis’ passions: philosophy and music.
“It’s a way to play with philosophical ideas in a different medium, [what] I’m passionate about.”