The end of an era for Dr. Katz
By Gail Fredricks | Published May 8, 2017
Dr. Richard Katz, professor in the School of English Studies, former president of the Kean Federation of Teachers (KFT), and Assistant Director of English programs at the Modern Language Association will be retiring at the end of this semester after 34 years at Kean University.
His reason: the decline of higher education in general, and the damage done to Kean University, in his view, by the current administration.
“I love teaching. I love my students, that will never change,” said Katz. “I assumed I would be teaching until I was 70, 75. But I can’t participate in this any longer.”
Katz received his Bachelor’s degree from Kenyon College in Ohio, his Master’s and Ph. D. in English at the University of Washington. Katz’ dissertation focused on the evolution of symbol into image in 19th and 20th century British and American poetry.
Over the years, he’s taught many courses, including senior seminar, American literature after the Civil War, modern and contemporary poetry, romanticism, writing about literature and critical theory.
Over the course of his career, Katz has experienced the transition from Kean College to Kean University, as well as the changes that have come along with it.
“I noticed at that time great collegiality among the faculty across disciplines,” said Katz. “When we became a university, we overextended our reach and headed down the road of the ‘Walmartification’ of higher education.”
His first experiences at Kean in the 1980’s showed an institution that prided itself on its support for students, evident in the smaller class sizes and individual attention for students, he said. Now, with more than 1,000 adjuncts — who are paid per class — Kean, he said, has a 50 to 1 student to (full time) faculty ratio.
“When I became president of the KFT in 96’, over seven years we saw a resurgence which has been undercut and undermined with needless expenditure of resources on projects peripheral to academics,” said Katz. “The ridiculous conference table, the needless glass edifices that remain largely empty, the wasteful, pointless restaurant, and the satellite campus in China that serves no one in New Jersey.”
Katz said the greatest challenge and joy of teaching at Kean has been transforming the lives of the students, many of whom are the first in their families to college.
“That begins with getting our students to trust and respect their own minds, to value their own ideas,” said Katz. “From there, students can learn how to develop ideas; to see the complexity of human thought to accept, not try to avoid, ambiguities and uncertainties as a condition of living an intellectual life.”
His devotion to his students and teaching has not gone unnoticed.
“Dr. Katz is an outstanding professor who inspires his students to work at understanding and appreciating literature,” said Dr. Charles Nelson, Executive Director of the School of English Studies.
Dr. John Gruesser, a fellow professor who met Katz when he first got to Kean in 1990, said Katz’ retirement is a tremendous loss for Kean University.
“There is a magic which sometimes happens in classrooms,” said. “It’s part the students and it’s part the teacher. It takes a special kind of teacher; he’s one of the few teachers who makes it possible for those kinds of magic moments to happen on a regular basis.”
Aside from praise from his peers, he has touched the hearts of his students as well.
Mariela Valdez-Cordero, was a student of Dr. Katz while completing her second degree at Kean, said he is one of the best educators she has ever encountered.
“He was not just a force in the classroom,” said Valdez-Cordero. “…but his guidance truly helped me throughout my journey, and his help has directly led to where I am today.”
Valdez-Cordero describes his style of teaching as tough — only in the sense of trying to make his students become better writers. Candid, open, and one to never beat around the bush, she admitted his classes were not easy but the challenge was welcome.
Valdez-Cordero will be accepting the Stephen J. Haselton Memorial Endowment For Excellence in Scholarship in the senior seminar, and plans to recognize Dr. Katz’ work and how much of an impact he has had on her life.
“I feel a sort of sadness that he is retiring, because so many students can benefit from his wisdom and guidance,” said Valdez-Cordero. “…he is an amazing educator and deserves to be recognized as such.”
Katz said he will continue his passion by teaching a course or two at a community college, and doing some writing. He still feels strongly about the direction Kean is heading, stating that the core educational mission needs to be discovered, or continue down the road of bankruptcy; with the overbuilding of the campus and the cost of maintenance and physical plans skyrocketing.
“The institution is at a crossroads,” said Katz. “Support for full time faculty has diminished. The losers in this bargain are the students.”