By: Sabrina Brown ~Editor-in-Chief~
Small college. Relatively close to home. And I was looking for a Catholic school. I came here for the reason that probably brought in most students in those days,” retiring Professor of English Dr. John Getz said of his decision to attend Xavier University in the fall of 1963.
Getz, like many Xavier students, found a home for himself here; a home that he has come back to again and again.
Though he left briefly to get his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in English from the University of Pennsylvania, Getz has spent the entirety of his teaching career at his alma mater.
“The people (have kept me here). It’s been a great place to teach because of the colleagues in my department,” Getz said. “We had an academic vice president years ago that said the most important thing a department does is hire. If you hire good faculty, then the work you want to do keeps going. (Our department) is a great group of people, from the most senior members to the newest hires.”
Beyond the English department, Getz has found the faculty community at Xavier to be an extremely rewarding one.
“Xavier’s a small enough place that you can have conversations with, and even friendships with, faculty in other departments. I’ve taught with professors from the theology and philosophy departments, in part to get a better understanding of the other courses our students take. I wanted to see, especially in the lower-level classes, the way other disciplines interact with ours (English),” Getz said. “Xavier’s so small that I see people from other departments every day; we have offices on the same floor. I know the university’s other programs as well as the people in them.”
Working with other departments and the interdisciplinary nature of Xavier’s core curriculum are, for Getz, some of the most integral portions of a Xavier education.
Throughout his career, Getz has been a strong advocate for the Ethics Religion, and Society focus in Xavier’s Core, serving on the faculty panel involved in its creation. For Getz, the current revision of the Core is no surprise; it’s the fourth modification of Xavier’s Jesuit values he has seen over his career.
“It doesn’t matter so much what you call it, as long as you know what it means. Like anything, education is a process. It’s interaction among people, so whether you give it a Latin term or being ‘men and women for others,’ I think there is a consistency throughout,” Getz said.
Within his own courses, Getz has particularly enjoyed teaching with a focus on peace studies.
“I was part of the Vietnam generation. I didn’t go to Vietnam; I wasn’t in the Army. But I could have been. Easily. I knew people who were. I think that period forced people to think about political issues. The choices I made were a commitment to work against war and for justice issues that grew out of it,” Getz said.
“That era changed everybody who lived in it. It caused you to question things. You had to come to terms with more issues like that, so I think that always stayed with me. That feeling that if you didn’t like war, you should do something about it. I marched in some demonstrations and wrote to my Congressmen, but I never felt like I did enough. Whatever you did, it was never enough.”
In recent years, however, Getz has developed an additional interest in the field of American literature: humor.
After losing his wife to cancer, battling the disease himself and remarrying a woman also affected by the disease, Getz has found that humor is the best way to deal with loss, pain and human suffering.
“The importance of humor has been brought home to me in a lot of personal ways. Being in the cancer community, you need humor as a survival mechanism, as a tool,” Getz said.
“Cancer on Five Dollars a Day (chemo not included),” a novel by Robert Schimmel, has quickly become one of Getz’s favorite books to teach.
“(The first time I taught Schimmel’s book) was maybe the best night of class I’ve ever had. People were talking about their experiences, and even those who didn’t have a direct experience said it gave them an insight into that world. That was a highlight in my career,” Getz said.
Getz has found Xavier’s students to be one of the most rewarding aspects of his job, and one that has remained constant throughout his career.
“I’ve found our students over the years to be extremely teachable. If you put things out there for them to do, they will take that jump,” Getz said. “For the most part, students will give you an honest effort. Students are eager and willing to give you a good run.”
After he retires, Getz and his wife plan to travel and continue to speak about the importance of humor in one’s struggle with cancer, an area he plans to continue to research in the field of literature as well.
“I could list the books I like for four hours,” Getz said. “It’s kind of like ‘thanks for letting me borrow these books for a while. Hope I didn’t break anything. It’s been a great ride.”
Though Getz may be officially ending his long career at Xavier, his legacy through both the classes he has taught and his connection with his students will remain long after his office in Hinkle Hall has been vacated.
Advice from Getz:
“Go to class. Ask for help if you need it. Realize your professors are people. If someone is having a problem, we will try to work with you. Don’t just disappear. If you’re having trouble adjusting to college, struggling with something, what have you, seek help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. I could give plenty of study tips, and obviously that’s important, but I think the emotional stuff, that’s the most important.”
Books to borrow for a while…
Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin. Beloved, Toni Morrison. The poetry of Walt Whitman. The poetry of Emily Dickinson. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom. The works of Jhumpa Lahiri. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien. Short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. A Chorus of Stones, Susan Griffin. Go Down Moses, William Faulkner. Moby Dick, Herman Melville. The Marrow of Tradition, Charles W. Chesnutt. Walden, Henry David Thoreau. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass.