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Professors inspire Jay Carson ’63 to become one

Like many Lafayette alumni, my life during college connected with my life after. Professionally, I went on to become an English professor, a choice I may not have made without the great teachers at Lafayette.

I was fortunate enough to have two classes — Victorians and the dreaded survey course taught by William Watt, professor of English (who signed his corrected papers “W3”). He greatly appreciated all poetry and, on occasion, published his own in The New Yorker. His poetry contained light verse with a depth of meaning that belied its style, much like the works of E.E. Cummings. Watt was quite a character, giving unique personality both to his classes and to the English department. I I remember seeing him stop while crossing campus and boom out to Frisbee players on the Quad, “Whenever I see a Frisbee flying, I see intellectual fires dying.” Twenty years later, while I pursued my doctorate at Carnegie Mellon University, I discovered his not-so-basic rhetoric text really was the “little green bible” of its day.

My favorite teacher was Cleveland Jauch, who made Milton so real and relevant to us that it became my favorite course. And his (prophetic) warning was that if we students thought we could teach part of his course better than he could, we were doomed—to become teachers.

[Albert] Genedebein’s History of Ideas course in the morning and [Richard] Welch’s Economic History in the afternoon were amazing insights into the major forces shaping our civilization. I still recall specific lectures from Welch’s Reconstruction to WWI and WWI to the Present course: “Chet (Arthur) at the Helm,” “Billy, Amy, and God.”

While at Lafayette, I worked three years at various editorial positions, the last year as editor in chief on The M�lange. What a wonderful and fun learning experience—although we worked like hell. I got a fine chance to meet and work with talented upper-classmen editors, Richard Webster ’61, Barry Burlaga ’62, and my own contemporaries, Rich Bonelli ’63 and Dennis Grant ’63. Through this experience, I learned most about collaboration and commitment.

We also had great fun on trips to New York and Philadelphia, to say nothing of the memorable fraternity parties and quieter evenings at Dutch’s College Hill Tavern and the YR [Young Republicans Club], where we could sometimes meet some of our professors and talk about course content and life. We had such a good time, a group of us still go back occasionally for football games.

What was amazing to me was that it was all integrated. We were a community of learners about the best that had been thought and said in our disciplines, about social life, about multicultural experiences. Three of my best friends were an African-American, a German immigrant, and a Colombian national: Fellah Hendricks, Otto Stelling, and Carlos Londono. I still keep up with some Lafayette friends.

It was so powerful an experience I never wanted to leave it, so I stayed in academia: I’m a university professor at Robert Morris University. My field is rhetoric and poetry, a connection first made to me by Watt. I’m a faculty adviser on our poetry magazine, Rune, where I get to encourage students to enjoy some of the same experiences I had as a student writer and editor. I feel very lucky to have been at Lafayette.

Professor of English Studies Jay Carson ’63 has taught at Robert Morris University for more than 35 years. He has published his poetry in journals and is working on a book of poetry. An English graduate, he earned a master’s in English from West Virginia University and a Ph.D. in English from Carnegie Mellon University.

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