Thursday, February 28, 2008

February 28, 2008

Professor extended learning from lecture hall to dining hall
Amy L. CornellCommunity columnist |
February 28, 2008

I received the news a few weeks ago of the death of an old friend and a favorite IU professor, Irving Katz. I am sad that generations of IU students will not get the pleasure of learning from this amazing man.

I met him because he sat on a search committee for a position that brought me back to IU after a few years away. I started my new job, and we agreed to have lunch every Friday in the residence dining halls where I worked.

Every week, we talked history, politics, current events and family. He loved to tell me stories of his class and how he taught freshmen to behave in a large lecture. He made them put newspapers and earphones away. He made fun of the kids who fell asleep by whispering and pointing them out to the other students. He talked often of his young life growing up on the lower east side of Manhattan, a poor Jewish kid whose parents left Poland before the Nazis rounded them up. Irving often reflected sadly that the rest of his family was killed in concentration camps in Europe during the war.

Irving appreciated undergraduate students in a way many professors at a research institution do not. At every lunch, Irving loved holding court with his students. He used the question, “Do you know what your last name means?” as an ice breaker with the residents who gathered around us, and it worked every time. He understood a lot of languages so he could often guess at the derivation of a surname.

The most amazing part of this name game was that if he did not know where a student’s name came from, he would remember to look it up in the Dictionary of Surnames in his office. The following week, when he came to lunch, he would have the meaning of that name scribbled on a piece of paper. He never forgot to follow up with a student to whom he made a promise.

In addition to his weekly meals with me, he dined regularly with the women of Forest Quad. He was known around Forest as a “Forest Friend,” a faculty member who allied himself with a floor in a residence hall. During meals, he showed students the side of a professor that wasn’t all about research and teaching. Professor Katz enjoyed the cafeteria cuisine and loved schmoozing with students. He gave students advice and offered opinions on everything from politics to fashion.

He took the women from Forest to the IU Opera. He was a donor to the IU School of Music, and as such, was allowed to sit for free in the third balcony of the Musical Arts Center during opera dress rehearsals.

According to the rules of the MAC, he was allowed to attend for free with family members. He dutifully showed up at the door to the balcony of the MAC for every dress rehearsal with as many as 20 freshman women in tow. He stated to the ushers, “these are all my nieces.”

Irving probably introduced more freshmen to IU Opera than anyone else. He loved the opera, and was happy to share his passion with students who had never seen it before.

I believe Irving is sitting at the Great Dining Hall now. He is enjoying his cafeteria roast chicken and mashed potatoes and green beans.

I can see the twinkle in his eye as he admonishes a student for answering his question with another question. He tells another student about the greatest paper in the world, the New York Times. As he was a lifelong Democrat, I hear him predicting who he thinks will win the Democratic nomination. He is telling one wide-eyed freshman about the story of “The Marriage of Figaro” in anticipation of an evening trip to the opera.

Wherever you are in the cosmos dear Irving, I hope we can dine again together someday. I miss you.

Amy Cornell’s column app ears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

1 comment:

Steph said...

Amy, this is such a love story. I wish I could have met him!