York's First Distinguished Professor Dies

Famed film critic, Stanley Kaufman recently died; and while the many newspaper obituaries did not mention it, he once served as an English professor at York.

Kaufman (1923 – 2013) was born in New York City to a dentist and his wife and taught at York between the years 1973-1976. Following, is a recollection by Dr. Alan Cooper, who served a lengthy tenure as York’s English Department Chair and became close friends with the revered film critic.

Our administrators knew of him from his Chanel 13 interview program with authors and performers, so they said okay. I wrote to Kauffmann and we met in Manhattan. He agreed to teach two courses, one in drama criticism and one in film history. We were still in our old 150th street and Jamaica Avenue location, and we set aside a theater-like classroom for the film course. I would drive to Yonkers to the Janus film distribution center and rent two– to-three-can versions of the films (this was before the invention of the VCR) and our technician would show them with stop and start controls as the lecture and discussion proceeded. Faculty often sat in, as did students with free periods at the time.

Kauffmann left York when the mid-seventies retrenchment made it necessary for me to choose between keeping our visiting professors and keeping our remedial English teachers. Open-enrollment had just made it clear that we would have many new underprepared students, and some upper classmen were deserting for Queens and Hunter, etc. in droves. The English Department was to lose more than half of York's decreed number of retrenchees. So Kauffmann, along with Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, Bruce Jay Friedman, Owen Dodson, and several others had to go.

The last time I saw him, earlier this year, he pointed to his bookshelves and said, with a smile to make it a quip, "Take any you want. I won't be needing them soon." I demurred but took one book, his recently published (2012) Ten Great Films, which pretty much covered the course he had taught for us in the seventies. A review of that book, now in process of publication, is being reset to change some tenses from present to past.

Perhaps nothing can attest to Kauffmann's humanity more than last year’s Hurricane Sandy. He lived on the upper floor of a building in the blacked-out area of Manhattan and was without power, and therefore without water, which could not be pumped to the tank atop the building. Devoted friends walked the stairs to bring him pots of water for essential needs.

*York College Journalism student, Jarrett Jones contributed to the introduction to this obituary.

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