Maureen Curtin

As far as dedicated and caring professors go--and members of society, for that matter--Dr. Maureen Curtin takes the cake.

Dr. Curtin, an associate professor of English at SUNY Oswego for the past 15 years, is the kind of professor that not only teaches her students the course essentials, but a professor that also reshapes her students’ perspectives on learning and on life.

During our interview, in between bouts of long-winded, facetious (but fascinating) discussions of updates on life and this semester’s coursework, I questioned Dr. Curtin on her academic history and her scholarly interests. Maureen received her master’s degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and her doctorate from the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, both degrees in English Literature. She came to work at SUNY Oswego after she received her doctorate and currently resides in Syracuse, NY.

While she teaches English courses, she also focuses much of her chalk talk around discussions of politics.

As seen in many professors’ offices, her desk was surrounded by books, books, and more books. It was a scene of utmost learnedness.

Maureen leaned back in her chair, a thoughtful expression (and a slightly coy smile) on her face, and said, “I’m interested in the power of storytelling to teach politics; I see racial, sexual, and class politics as all linked.”

Oftentimes, her lectures and views in class inspire students to crave of taking action and becoming involved in local (or, potentially, quite expansive) political issues and concerns. She evokes passion in those around her. This mentor-like encouragement to think outside the box and to question rigid societal standards goes beyond the classroom. Maureen also described her commitment to equality, activism, and political involvement both on and off campus.

Dr. Curtin is the Vice President for Academics in United University Professions (UUP) for the Oswego chapter. UUP is the ultimate higher education union.

“I have the opportunity to represent all faculty members,” she earnestly explained. “It gives me an opportunity to advocate for faculty across campus.”

She further revealed, “I’m very active in political organizations in Syracuse.”

Outside of the university, Maureen is involved with the Workers Center of Central New York, an organization focused on achieving both workplace and economic justice for workers. She is also part of the Syracuse Peace Council, which is a social justice and non-profit organization that confronts war, violence, and overall inequality. Plus, she supports the Green Party of Onondaga County; she is passionate about environmental conservation.

In addition to her commitments in administration and teaching, she has also had several academic works published. During the interview, she told me to follow her into the hallway, searching for some of her books on display.

Her works are as follows: Out of Touch: Skin Tropes and Identities in Woolf, Ellison, Pynchon, and Acker; “A Tale of Two Classes: Historical Agency and the Common Good”; “Hysteria and Democracy: Exfoliating Difference in Lynne Tillman’s American Genius, A Comedy”; “Between Being and Sense: Incest, Capital, and Sovereignty in Kathy Acker’s Empire of The Senseless and Sue William Silverman’s Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You”; and “Materializing Invisibility as X-Ray Technology: Skin Matters in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.”

Even more impressive is her upcoming sabbatical next year.

She described the trip in further detail in an e-mail: “I am taking a sabbatical in the spring to research the class and sexual politics of Irish-American literature in the 20th century. This will be the groundwork for a book called Troubling Tides: Socialism & Suffrage in Irish-American Writing. I also hope to develop a course in Irish women's lit to co-teach with Dr. Mary McCune. We would like to link a study abroad component and a field visit to an immigrant community in NYC.”

Maureen let out a burst of laughter when I asked the cliched question regarding her hobbies and interests, but willingly explained her past involvement with sports and exercise.

“I used to consider myself a jock!” she exclaimed, smiling.

She played several sports, including softball, football, and racquetball, and even participated in running half marathons in the Adirondacks. However, after a severe injury several years ago, her exercise has been limited. She enjoys yoga and hopes that the practice will help her to regain flexibility and strength to once again become the “jock” that she identifies as.

Maureen also described what she loves most about SUNY Oswego.

“I'd have to say it's my energetic and curious students. I especially appreciate how good you are to one another when you come together in class. The mutual respect and support Oswego students show in class is humbling. And watching you discover your power gives me goose bumps!”

As a fervent fan of Dr. Curtin, I have personally experienced both transcendent and intellectual changes while attending her classes, writing her papers, and studying her assigned readings, which were both substantial and transformative. What makes Dr. Curtin such an exceptional professor isn’t her unconventional and relatable teaching practices, nor her intelligence and unjudging friendly demeanor, nor even her fast-paced and color-coded chicken scratches of thoughts on the classroom markerboard: it’s her genuine care for her students, her empathetic nature, and her talent for making each individual student realize his or her inner worth, strength, and creative abilities.

She isn’t defined by her research, her education, or her occupation as a scholar. The qualities listed above aren’t what you find in just any professor. These are qualities you find in a good and kind person.