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Professor Fontana: uncovered

The Newswire sits down with one of XU’s most popular professors prior to his departure

By Kevin Tighe
On March 14, 2012

In a year, Xavier University will be losing its most senior and arguably most notorious faculty member, Ernest Fontana, Ph.D. For 46 years Fontana has taught English at Xavier University. Next fall, Fontana will be taking a sabbatical
to return for one last semester as a full professor in the spring. In 1966, the late Fr. Thomas J. Savage, S.J. hired a young Ernest Fontana as an assistant professor, after Fontana's doctorate work at the University of Notre Dame.
After six quick years, Fontana was promoted to full professor in 1973 and named Chair of the English department in 1975. Additionally, Fontana founded and directed the Xavier University Scholars Program from 1973 to 1976. Under Fontana's chairmanship, the English department has expanded, diversified and increased its quality of faculty and courses, according to Fontana.
Fontana also aided in the revision of the Core Curriculum, and the establishment of Xavier's ERS focus.
As an English major, I have taken Dr. Fontana's survey poetry
course and witnessed his renowned
theatrics and passionate teaching style first hand. I recently sat down with Fontana to discuss his career at Xavier, some of his more infamous stories and his plans for the future.
I asked Fontana what his favorite
moment has been at Xavier, to which he closed his eyes in a very Fontana-esque manner and hesitated.
On April 3, 1968, just two years after Fontana joined Xavier, he controversially brought Andy Warhol to show Warhol's film, "Mr. Hustler," which portrays an unedited look into the homosexual
community of that time. Xavier's administration had initially
banned Warhol from coming,
but Fontana led the protesting effort. "I was fairly active in persuading
the Jesuits to allow him to come," Fontana said.
Having taught for 46 years, I asked Fontana if he has seen any notable differences in the University.
"The faculty didn't publish nor was as qualified as it is now, but it argued much more," Fontana said. "I miss that."
Fontana said he has enjoyed teaching poetry and Victorian literature.
I asked if he would have taught another subject, to which he said philosophy or history.
"For me philosophy is too abstract and history can be too depressing," Fontana said, however.
"Literature has been the best place for me. It has taught me to live and live with a passion."
Infamous Rumors Answered
• Over the past 46 years, Fontana has indeed accidentally caused a fire in a classroom trash can by disposing a lit cigarette butt (Fontana did emphasize, however, that smoking in doors was legal at this time and he quit smoking 25 years ago).
• Fontana has never been shot, but was in fact knifed in the elbow in Madrid after trying to stop a man who stole his wife's purse.
• Fontana doesn't own a black turtleneck for every day of the week, but did claim that he wears them so often because his neck is so thick that he would have to have collared shirts custom fitted.
• Fontana has been kicked out of a feminist book store because the manager was uncomfortable with his male presence.
Future Plans "At my age, the plan is to survive. To survive and make peace with the world." Fontana does, however, plan to travel throughout Europe, read further literature, write and work on his own projects, collect art, be with family and get in touch with old friends. Fontana has traveled all across the world with his wife, and plans to continue. "I like to meet people abroad without the baggage of my professional identity. I find that exciting and meet very interesting people that way," Fontana said. "I'm not a sentimental person and try to remain suspicious of my emotions," Fontana said. "But, Xavier has been a great fit." Student MessagesDr. Fontana is currently teachingpoetry and a senior seminar. I asked students from his classes and those that have taken one of his courses to summarize Fontana in one sentence. Here are what his students said: "A man that cannot be summarized in one sentence" sophomore Mark Lasky said. "Super eccentric, but also very intelligent" said junior Molly Boes. "Fontgasm," senior Conor Gallagher said.

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