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How can you let him go?
April 25, 2011 | Danielle Hayes Op-Ed Submission
Pier Marton is a beloved film production professor here at Washington University. Known for encouraging students to pry deeply, play freely and produce top-quality work, Pier is a rare combination of intellectual, dreamer and master craftsman.
Yet Professor Marton’s contract has been terminated. He is teaching his last semester in Film and Media Studies this spring. I can’t seem to make sense of it.
The number of people who teach video production at Washington University can be counted on one hand. As far as I can tell, not one has energy or expertise comparable to that of Professor Marton, who has been working in video for over thirty years.
In that time, Professor Marton’s work has been exhibited and acclaimed internationally; collected by institutions such as New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Canada and Paris’ Beaubourg Museum; reviewed by The New York Times, The Village Voice and Le Monde; and described as “a carefully crafted chaos” capable of “turn[ing] your brains inside out like Hitchcock’s trickiest scenes. As sharp as a crack of the whip.” Marton’s colleagues and references include pioneering video artists Bill Viola, Suzanne Lacy, Robert Cahen, and his mentor and friend, the late Jean Baudrillard himself.
In his 13 years at Washington University, Professor Marton has been a devoted instructor, extending himself beyond office hours to advise individuals and student groups, jury film competitions, facilitate discussions and organize screenings and lectures. In the three years I have worked with him, over the course of hundreds of emails and countless conversations, I am regularly awed by his commitment to and concern for his students.
More relevant than prestige is Professor Marton’s practice, grounded in a deeply rooted joy and sense of discovery. Class discussions flow fluidly from high theory to production. Former student Ann Hirsch aptly described him as “the John Cage of the classroom.”
It can be difficult to explain what it is about Professor Marton that is so rare—imagine a “Dangerous Minds” where Professor Marton salvages privileged kids from inflated senses of self-worth in lives where one can be kept too busy to think. He grounds us firmly in media while constantly moving beyond media. When I returned from studying abroad, Professor Marton didn’t take any old travel stories or snapshots for granted. He asked me the ways I had changed as a human being and what I saw differently.
I am writing for the sake of current and future students, for this entire community, for all of the worlds we affect when we leave here. We need this kind of rigor. At a time when, as Professor Marton said, “we look at images as if they are truth,” we need thoughtful, articulate filmmakers. We need critical consumers of media. If we are seeking our education in earnest, it is in our best interest to keep professors that ask something real of us.
A professor like Pier Marton—a person like Pier Marton—is hard to come by.
And so I ask: How can we let him go?