Saltzman taught more than words

Matt Davidson - Senior English & Theater Major

Matt Davidson – Senior English & Theater Major

The English department has lost a member of its family. Dr. Art Saltzman was an uncle to us students. Not the cool uncle who played one-on-one on the driveway turned makeshift basketball court during the holidays, but the tall, Jewish curmudgeon, overpowering in physical presence, who scared the hell out of little kids. We, the students of the English department, were his nieces and nephews constantly bouncing about trying desperately to win his approval.

Dr. Saltzman had a way about him. To most students, the students who didn’t see him day in and day out, the students who took his class because his was the last 102 available, who saw the surface, Dr. Saltzman was a grouchy, unpleasant man who never cracked a smile, never told a joke and never appreciated the humor of his students. They felt he was above them – annoyed because his authoring of several books, which nobody read, was being interrupted by his obligations to teach.

He often sequestered himself in his office, barricaded away from the evil heathens who were constantly stalking him to ask a series of dim-witted questions. Students were nervous to tap on his door for fear he would unhinge his mouth and swallow the bearer of said queries whole. They had an image of him picking his teeth with a toothpick whittled from the femur of a former undergrad.

But there was a privileged few who saw a completely different man. A man with the greatest sense of humor, hardly serious and took pleasure in those who were confident to be themselves around him. True, it was a rare sight to see him crack a smile and even rarer to hear his thunderous belly laugh but that didn’t make him any less amused by his surroundings. A certain dance in his eyes accompanied by crow’s feet illustrated his delight in a good groaner or better yet, when students exceeded his expectations.

Then there was a pirate side of him – this man, who ‘had no fun’, this no-nonsense professor of Lit, who on Halloween became

Jack Sparrow, Black Beard, or the Pirate Artie to be sure, and marched around, in his trademark dead-pan exciting the lines, “Shiver me timbers” and “AAARGH!” will forevermore be etched in our memory stones.

In his office, he was always receptive. He welcomed debates about subjects regarding this or that or the other thing. He smiled when you arrived at his door, offered his large, monstrous hand when you left – and if you were very blessed, you were invited back.

He taught us so much, both in the classroom and in the halls. In front of the blackboard, he taught us the rules of writing, stating on several occasions that you cannot break rules before you studied them. He then would give us assignments and encourage us to smartly break grammatical rules to properly communicate our thoughts within a given essay. Over lunch, he trained us to listen hard and speak softly, for the world around us could teach us more than any time spent in a college class room if we just allowed ourselves to receive it.

Dr. Saltzman was a wet blanket at times, but more often, he was a funny, intelligent and a very inspiring instructor who loved teaching those who were willing to learn. He actually was the coolest of all uncles.

Oh, and he did play basketball.