I think Fulton Montgomery Community College is one of the finest community colleges in the state. Its high academic standards, commitment to student rights, and affordability are of crucial importance to the economy of both counties under its jurisdiction. It is therefore with deep regret that I now inveigh against my alma mater.
The Gazette recently reported on the disgraceful way in which FMCC refused to revoke Jonas Kover’s letter of resignation. Kover will now be forced to adjunct courses at a punishing pace, rather than teach as a fully paid professional. To understand why this action on the part of the college has angered so many students, it is necessary to know who Jonas Kover is.
To call Jonas Kover a great teacher is like referring to da Vinci as a good painter. It’s true, but it hardly conveys the magnitude of the man’s genius.
I have been taught by some of the best professors in the country, including such noted luminaries as Jeff Berman, Gayle Whittier and Richard Barney. But Jonas Kover is the best professor I have ever had or could ever hope to have.
The man has the rare gift of turning average students into exceptional students and exceptional students into extraordinary students. Kover, along with other great FMCC teachers like Jake Holden and William Barto, changed my life, motivating me to go to graduate school and get my own Ph.D.
Stories about Kover are legendary at FMCC. He is famous for his “shotgun” quizzes, pop quizzes that are harder than most teachers’ exams. In order to pass his class, I would study two hours every night for the shotgun the next day. His storytelling ability was even more legendary. The man made such dry historical figures as Calvin Coolidge and William Taft come alive through colorful impersonations. One lecture from Kover was usually worth the entire semester output of a less-talented professor.
His teaching also challenged standard middle-class assumptions. A working-class man who had to struggle his way through college, Kover’s stories of class struggle and grit on the American frontier were as inspiring as they were shocking.
There are several excellent reasons why FMCC should keep Kover as a full-time professor. First of all, he is versatile. He does not merely teach history, but has also helped the college in its forestry classes.
Secondly, he is without a doubt the most popular professor FMCC has ever had. Even on Rate My Professor, the notorious teacher ratings aggregator, Kover routinely gets ratings of 4.0 to 5.0, the highest possible. Were FMCC so colossally stupid as to go through with their proposed reduction in Kover’s salary and duties, student revolt would be widespread.
Thirdly, he provides a valuable non-Christian perspective at a college that is all too rural and Christian. His exploration of Judaism in his courses on Israel and the Holocaust are a valuable learning experience for an often sheltered community.
Lastly, Kover’s teaching skill is an added inducement for skilled professionals to join FMCC’s faculty. I know well-placed graduate students who would only consider FMCC as a teaching destination because Kover teaches there. Similarly, his teaching draws in many bright undergraduates who would otherwise bypass FMCC.
I do not know why FMCC will not allow Kover to rescind his letter of resignation. The original resignation was obviously made under duress, when he was undergoing cancer treatment. That the college would punish him for ill health is detestable. Knowing how the college job market works, I suspect FMCC’s administration figured they could cut costs by using adjuncts in place of Kover. What they failed to reckon with is the very real possibility that he is simply irreplaceable. There’s only one Da Vinci and there’s only one Kover.
The college is also not apparently aware of the risk it is taking with the alumni by hurting one of FMCC’s most beloved teachers. Up until I heard about Kover’s situation, I was planning to donate money to the university. As a Ph.D. candidate at a prestigious upstate university, my giving potential for FMCC was considerable, as my earning potential is in the low six figures.
However, I would not give a cent to a university that would treat one of the SUNY system’s finest in such a reprehensible, double-handed manner. Nor would I urge anyone to aid FMCC in any way until it resolves this situation.
The Jonas Kovers of the world come once in a lifetime. We should honor them, treasure them, love them. Nowhere in that simple code is there room for betraying them. Kover has served FMCC faithfully since 1969. It’s time the university showed its gratitude in return.
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