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To the Editor:
The current impasse in negotiations between unionized faculty at our State universities and State government touches me personally in a number of ways. I teach in the English Department at Kutztown University. I’m also a native Kutztownian.
My father, Bill Shaw, earned his M. Ed. at then-Kutztown State College in the early 1960s. He got a job at Kutztown Area High School, and spent the next 35 years guiding generations of kids through their junior year encounters with Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Wright, and endless S.A.T. vocabulary lists.
The University remained a part of his life, and became a part of mine. I learned to skateboard on its concrete walkways, and I learned to drive in its parking lots. My parents took me to dozens of art exhibits in Sharadin Hall and film screenings in Schaeffer Auditorium. And as a high-school kid, I worked in its dining halls.
Far more important, though, were the relationships I developed with K.U. faculty members as I grew. At a number of those Sharadin Hall exhibits, Professor James Carroll talked to me about how art wasn’t just pretty pictures, but was a dynamic process through which ideas moved, beautifully, provocatively, into the material world.
English Professor Angela Scanzello was the mother of one of my high-school friends, and weekend after weekend, she opened her home to us. Poring over her bookshelves, I learned about continental literature, about Freud, Arendt. Novels by Thomas Mann and Stendahl lay about the house, part of its furniture, evidence of a reader, a teacher, a thinker at work.
Biology Professor Joseph Piscitelli’s family and mine were close friends. Year after year through my boyhood, we watched the Kutztown Halloween Parade from the Piscitellis’ broad front porch near the top of West Main, and Joe was indefatigable, hailing University students he’d taught, shaking hands with neighbors and his multitude of friends. In him, the distinction between town and gown melted away. Countless evenings I heard the Piscitellis and my parents in conversation—about politics, culture, parenting—and Joe presented a model of good-humored intelligence and ethical thought. Everything interested him. Everything elicited his incisive, but kind perspective. And when he turned his attention to me, I always had the sense that a really smart man was listening closely, was actually interested in what I had to say.
Those experiences, and more immediately, those people, enlivened my youth, and set me on the path toward professional achievements. Now, after college in Philadelphia and graduate school in New York City, I’m here, in my office at K.U., working in the community that raised me, carrying on its traditions of rigorous thought and social generosity. I’m very lucky to find myself among colleagues who share my passion for public education; who work as hard as anyone I’ve ever known to create lively, challenging classroom experiences for their students; and who see the progress of those students as the primary priority in their working lives.
Now my colleagues and I face real challenges. More than anything, I want to continue to give back to Kutztown, to the Lehigh Valley. I want to continue to pour my energy and labor into my teaching, as Professors Carroll, Scanzello, and Piscitelli did during their distinguished careers. But I want to do that in an environment that values my colleagues, the work they do, the contributions they make. If K.U. is to endure as center of learning, innovation, and culture in our corner of Pennsylvania, the people that drive its principal mission, its educators, need a fair contract. And we need it now.
Jonathan Imber Shaw, Ph.D.
Kutztown University English Department