After 34 years of teaching

Art Silverblatt’s retirement party, which took place on April 27 in Emerson Library’s Faculty Development Center filled the room with friends, colleagues and administrators who shared stories about his time at Webster University. / photo by Chloe Hall
Art Silverblatt’s retirement party, which took place on April 27 in Emerson Library’s Faculty Development Center filled the room with friends, colleagues and administrators who shared stories about his time at Webster University. / photo by Chloe Hall

Media Literacy Professor Art Silverblatt has been teaching at Webster University for 34 years and learning for even longer. In fact, one of his favorite things about being in the classroom is being able to learn from those he teaches.

When he arrived at Webster, he was the director of the media studies program—before the School of Communications (SoC) was the school it is today. He said at the time, the program was in a state of growth, and only 77 students were in it. When the SoC became its own department, Silverblatt stepped up as department chairperson, before eventually becoming a teacher of Media Literacy and various media theory classes.

Silverblatt recently announced his plans to retire after the 2014-15 school year. He ended his time at Webster by celebrating with friends and colleagues on April 27 in Emerson Library’s Faculty Development Center.

“My best memories (of Webster) are associated with the people,” Silverblatt said. “I have fond memories of the students, wonderful students who were so fun to teach, as well as faculty members.”

SoC Dean Eric Rothenbuhler and SoC Department Chair and Public Relations Program Facilitator Gary Ford spoke at the event on Silverblatt’s contributions to the school, and many professors and friends shared stories about his time at Webster.

“There’s one person after another in our faculty that was hired by Art, recruited by Art, taught by Art and mentored, partnered with or coached at one point or another in their career by Art,” Rothenbuhler said in a speech to the room. “You see the results of his teaching all over the place.”

Silverblatt said his biggest strength as an administrator was finding talent, and many professors Webster students know today were hired by him. Among them are Van McElwee, Kathy Corley, Barry Hufker and Aaron AuBuchon and many others.

“Everybody I hired, I wanted to be better than me,” he said.

A greater contribution

Silverblatt’s contributions to education extend beyond Webster. He has penned five books on media literacy during his time at Webster.

He said when he first got to Webster and was approached about writing a book, he felt as though he did not have much to say.

“I started writing when I started to develop an interest and more expertise in the field,” Silverblatt said. “You can look at articles and see things that are really cluttering up the field, and these are junior professors who are either going to publish or perish. Webster is a place where you publish when you have something to say.”

He sees Webster not only as a place where professors publish when they have something to say, but as a place that encourages its professors to make a contribution to their field. Some of those contributions have come from the ideas and concepts students have brought up in class, which keeps Silverblatt thinking. He said he doesn’t just spend his time in the classroom teaching, but learning too.

“I still really enjoy teaching; and a lot of it really is that (the teaching part), but it also keeps you learning, keeps you thinking. And what’s more fun than talking about ideas?” Silverblatt said.

Deborah Denson, an adjunct professor at Lindenwood University and former student at Webster, also spoke at Silverblatt’s retirement party. She said after working as his research assistant and getting to know him, she saw Silverblatt as the one professor who believed in her ability and potential.

“As much as to my mother, I owe Art a debt of gratitude for believing in me,” Denson said.

Today, Denson frequently invites Silverblatt to speak to her undergraduate and graduate students on the topic of media literacy.

Keeping busy

Despite going into retirement, Silverblatt still feels as though he has a lot to do.

“One of the reasons I’m excited about it is because I’m healthy, and I’m looking forward to activities,” Silverblatt said.

He frequently walks his dog in Forest Park—his house is located across the street. Denson said she frequently joins him for dog walks in the park. He has also gotten into cell phone photography and has been taking pictures while out for walks. He wants to go back and listen to  audiobooks of the classic novels he studied while pursuing his Ph.D. in English.

Purdue University has asked him to write a chapter in a book about information literacy, which he is planning to do soon. But Silverblatt will not be leaving Webster’s campus for good. He will continue teaching at Webster as an emeritus professor, an honorary position that continues his affiliation with the school. He plans to teach a class on Film Noir in the 2015 Fall 2 term. At his retirement party, he even promised he would come back every Tuesday.

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