Anyone who’s visited the LA building and walked its hallway past room 173 has seen the table containing books and other literature. A sign posted above admonishes any would-be takers to refrain from being “greedy.”
The books and the table that holds them belong to Professor Ted Otten of the English Department. The purpose of that table is to allow the material to be recycled rather than trashed. For Otten, to dispose of books is “criminal.” His one lament with regard to the table is that “very seldom do people say ‘thank you’” for the items.
A mainstay on campus since 1968, Professor Otten will retire at the end of this year.
Otten, who hails from Williston Park, Long Island, has been an educator for the past 48 years, 45 of which he has spent teaching at MCCC. He completed his undergraduate education at St. John’s University and went on to receive a master’s degree in American Literature from New York University.
Prior to joining the faculty at MCCC, he taught high school for the NYC public school system.
His career at MCCC has included courses in community service, Italian opera, and film into literature. But Otten is perhaps best known for his teaching of English 101.
He is also regarded for his sharp wit and refusal to temper words. “Times have changed; I have not,” said Otten. “I don’t find the atmosphere very friendly anymore.”
He cited a sense of entitlement along with a decreasing sense of responsibility among students, as well as a change in attitude of some of his colleagues in the English department, as factors in his decision to retire.
Otten’s professorship at MCCC has been almost five decades long, starting when the only campus was located in Trenton. “The beginning was a challenge,” he said, alluding to a time when the classrooms were empty office buildings. When the campus was expanded to the present location in West Windsor, he went along for the ride.
Laura Knight, fellow Professor of English at MCCC, who has known Otten for the past 29 years said, “I’m very sad that he’s retiring. [He is]one of the smartest, most caring professors that Mercer has had the luck to have.”
“I will miss his straightforward manner,” said Knight, noting his willingness to “tell it the way it is.”
Dean Robin Schore, head of the Liberal Arts Department and a 40-year colleague of Otten, echoed Knight’s sentiments.
“[He] has one of the nastiest senses of humor on campus [and has] polished the art of being a curmudgeon to perfection,” said Schore.
Another person who can attest to Otten’s unique sense of humor is Tatiana Dodge. Dodge, currently an Administrative Specialist of Student Activities at MCCC, is a graduate of the class of 2010 and a former student of Otten’s, having taken his English composition course during her time as a student.
“His sense of humor is out of this world,” she recalled.
She also noted that Otten “didn’t mess around,” holding high expectations for his students and exhibiting a “passion for the art of writing.”
In addition to his passion for writing, Otten has long been dedicated to radio. He currently hosts two programs on the college’s radio station, WWFM. Strike Up the Band, now in its fourth year, showcases Otten’s selections of Big Band music.
The Dress Circle, which he has co-hosted for the past 29 years, deals with the musical aspects of both Broadway and Hollywood.
Winifred Howard, producer of The Dress Circle and Program Manager for JazzOn2, has worked with Otten at the radio station for the past 16 years.
“I’m honored to be a part of it,” she said of her time working with Otten. “Having a faculty member volunteer for the station gives us a certain cache.”
While Ms. Howard characterized Otten’s retirement from teaching as “a loss to the school,” she did note that there is a silver lining: “MCCC’s loss will be WWFM’s gain,” she said.
In addition to his radio programs, Otten intends to spend more time traveling after he retires. He currently visits London twice a year to attend operas, and he hopes to increase the frequency with which he goes abroad.
Otten’s final class will be offered in the Spring semester of 2014, after his official retirement.