One of my best friends recently told me that John Muise – long-time instructor at St. Thomas University – is not returning to teach next year. St. Thomas University is not renewing his contract. For me, and for everything John has done for me, this is absolutely heartbreaking. I firmly believe that STU is making a mistake.
I just finished writing a long letter to them. In the hopes of reaching more people, I’m posting the letter here, as well. Plus, it serves to show just how much of a major influence John has been on my writing.
Dear St. Thomas University,
It recently came to my attention that St. Thomas University is not renewing their contract with English instructor John Muise. As a former St. Thomas student, I’m writing in the hopes that those involved in the process rethink their decision.
After all, if it wasn’t for John Muise, I wouldn’t be a published writer. Let me explain.
If you look at my records, I first attended St. Thomas University in 1997. I only lasted a year as I brought all my bad high school habits with me. My attendance was shoddy, I barely paid attention, and as a result, my grades suffered. When I returned in 2003 and wanted to be there, I became a keener at the front of the class. My marks went from Cs and Ds to Bs and As, a rarity in my academic life.
It was during this return that I first encountered John Muise. He taught my ENG1006 class. At first, I didn’t know what to think of this guy. Here’s this kooky, rambling hippie who bikes to school every single day of the year (even in winter!). His wife comes with him to be basically his teacher’s assistant. He tells stories about how he doesn’t own a TV, hates using computers, or that he actually liked not having hot water in his home for a while.
“What’s a weirdo like this teaching English?” I asked myself. “With all these soapbox rants, he must love the sound of his own voice. Why does he show so many clips from movies? What does Fight Club, Annie Hall, My Dinner with Andre, Cool Hand Luke, or the frigging Matrix have to do with Hamlet or Frankenstein!? Why isn’t he living off the land like some glorified Henry David Thoreau, one of his literary heroes?”
As I attended John’s classes, listening to him quote Thoreau, J. D. Salinger, Chuck Palahniuk, or Ken Kesey, I started seeing John’s brilliance. Here’s a guy who uses pop culture in order to connect similar ideas with classic literature. Here’s a guy who, inspired by his favourite rebellious writers, sees society in a different way. He sees consumerism has overtaken our world. He sees the unnecessary waste it creates. He sees people unwilling to be themselves, putting on fronts in order to please others. He frowns on society’s obsession with beauty and aesthetics. He worships the outliers; the outside-the-box thinkers; the unconformers to society’s sometimes silly rules. As Thoreau said in Walden: “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
John Muise became not just my own writing muse; he became an inspiration for how to lead my own life. I became less afraid of being myself. Even today, I still feel like an outlier compared to other people.
Then he gave me the greatest gift no other instructor has: creative freedom. See, while John stuck to “the rules” and handed out essay topics, he also left the door open for other projects. He openly suggested coming up with our own topics (checking with him first, of course). He even suggested thinking outside the box and doing something other than an essay: a presentation, a short film, a short story. He admitted doing this to break up the monotony of reading essay after essay after essay.
I’ll fully admit that my first attempt at my own topic was silly. Being a huge comic book nerd, I wrote an essay comparing Hamlet with Spider-Man. It wasn’t very good and I was marked accordingly (I think a B-, maybe a C). But just the fact that I was allowed to do that was amazing to me!
Later assignments, though, is where my creativity really took off. For Fight Club, I wrote a short story from the point of view of Raymond K. Hessel, the convenience store clerk held at gunpoint by Tyler Durden. Looking back, it’s glorified fan fiction. But John loved it and marked it with an A or A+.
My crowning achievement, though, was my Frankenstein presentation. Thanks to John, Frankenstein became one of my favourite literary works. Inspired by it, I did a monologue in front of the class. I played the monster as if he continued to live until today. Heh, in retrospect, I just soapboxed my own frustrations with the world. I guess John inspired me to rant just like him, too. But John (and the rest of the class) praised it so highly that he invited me to “perform” for his ENG2006 class.
My final assignment, while nowhere nearly as praised, was the real kick-off to my writing career. Inspired by all I’d written and heard in John’s course, I wrote a short novella set in a superhero world. It starred a character called The Farmer, an ex-super villain whose penance was toiling on an isolated farm for the rest of his life. I didn’t know it at the time, but that story was the tiny snowball at the top of the hill. After taking John’s course, I wrote a follow-up novella that introduced a side character: The Armadillo, later named Dilbert Pinkerton. Dill became the star of my own series of pulp-styled adventures. I now have two books in the series published: The City of Smoke & Mirrors and The Dame was a Tad Polish.
If it wasn’t for Dill, I wouldn’t be a published author.
If it wasn’t for that second novella, I wouldn’t have Dill.
If it wasn’t for The Farmer, I wouldn’t have that second novella.
If it wasn’t for John Muise, I wouldn’t have had The Farmer.
In other words, if it wasn’t for John Muise, I wouldn’t have fulfilled one of my greatest dreams. I’ve been writing since the summer after Grade 2, when I wrote short stories in crayon about Gizmo from the movie Gremlins. I’ve met teachers along the way who inspired me, who pushed my creativity, who offered just the right amount of criticism. I can think of less than half a dozen people in my life who filled that role. John Muise is unquestionably one of my greatest influencers, which is why I dedicated my first novel to him, along with those other influencers.
I became not only a better writer, but a better person because of John Muise. He helped me become one of those outside-the-box thinkers. Hell, I don’t think there’s a box that fits me anymore and I’m grateful to John for that.
Going to university is all about opening your mind to new ideas. University is meant to challenge what and how you think. The very idea of St. Thomas University as a Liberal Arts school is, as the website states, “explore controversial and competing ideas in ways that demand informed, careful, and considered judgement.”
Is John Muise controversial? Absolutely. What other instructor brings a blow-up doll while teaching Charles Bukowski’s Love for 17.50? But you can’t open your mind fully if you’re not willing to experience and consider controversial opinions, even if you don’t agree with them.
As much as a kooky, rambling, controversial, rebellious, winter-cycling madman John Muise is, he is the very definition of everything that St. Thomas University stands for. John Muise personifies St. Thomas University. John has taught at St. Thomas for seventeen years. I can’t imagine a St. Thomas University without him and I truly hope I don’t have to. I implore you to reconsider your decision and let John continue to be the kooky, rambling, controversial, rebellious, winter-cycling madman for at least another seventeen years.
“He Who Marches Out Of Step Hears Another Drum.”
– Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
With every ounce of hope to John,
P.S.: Even if you don’t rehire John, please give him a copy of this letter. He means the world for me. I’ve heard he’s been understandably distraught by this decision, so I hope this at least shows what wonderful influence he’s been on me.
So…why on earth is it that they aren’t renewing his contract? I owe a lot to him, too… he’s a great prof — easily one of the best they have in the English department.
Cutbacks from what I’ve been told. He’s not the only part-timer or professor teaching without a PhD being let go.
John was an inspiration for me! He also showed me just how terrible my english skills are! It was a wakeup call that i did not get from other professors. I walked out his class with only B grade, but felt that i learned so much from him. However contrversial he might be, he was a sincere guy who truly cared about his students! I loved that I could catch him anytime downtown st the coffee shop and he would happily have a conversation with me. Saint Thomas is making a mistake by not keeping John.
And to John Muise if he sees this message – Thanks again for being an awesome teacher. Rarely was i ever so engaged in class while at university.
Thank you. I’ve heard from so many others saying similar things about John. It’s amazing how many people he reached.
As for seeing the message, it’s unlikely. Remember that he’s a huge luddite that hates computers. Given that, it’s hilariously ironic that my post is going viral.
Thanks for writing this. It sounded quite familiar. I’ll make sure to do the same. John’s influence on my life path was also very significant. I now teach Language Arts at the High School level, and can most certainly attribute much of my passion for literature to him.
PS- What specific address did you send the letter to?
This is the one my friend Corey provided:
Dawn Russell, President
St. Thomas University
51 Dineen Drive
Canada, E3B 5G3
I wasn’t lucky enough to be taught by John, but I know John from seeing him around campus, and throughout Fredericton, biking around with his family. He is always smiling, and it’s obvious that he’s got a genuine character who cares about others. It would be a shame for St. Thomas to lose him.
First of all, thank you for writing such an eloquent letter: you have an enormous heart. This aside, it appears that there is a lot of ‘noise’ out there about this whole issue. To be clear, as someone else has said, I was not ‘fired’ from STU, but, as has been correctly stated by someone else, my contract has not be renewed. And, as has been correctly stated by someone else, I am not alone in being affected by changes at STU. I think that the confusion involves the fact that I simply do not know that my (usual) contract will ever be renewed, and that I have been given the impression that it’s unlikely that it will. Unfortunately, these sorts of nuances sometimes get lost when someone asks, “so are you or aren’t you ‘let go,'” to which you want to say, “it’s complicated, but it doesn’t look good at all.” I’d be lying if I said that I was fired, but I’d also be lying if I said that know that my (usual) contract will ever be renewed. The problem, I suppose, is that it’s a small world, and in spite of being a very private person, I have been perhaps more vocal about the issue than have others, probably because of the uniquely strange state of ‘limbo’ in which I find myself. I have absolutely no ill will toward STU, and I did not mean to diminish the respective situations of others caught in the midst of the aforementioned changes at STU. And you, Nick, are a good man, and as Flannery O’Connor would say, “A good man is hard to find.”
Thanks to my wife for helping me figure out how to navigate this means of expression.
John Muise made my entire experience at STU more than worthwhile. I can say that his year-long course was perhaps one of the greatest years of my life so far. He often brought holiday snacks for us to munch on while watching Fight Club. He and his wife even brought in some fresh vegetables that they had grown. Our entire class had marvellous times reading aloud various plays. I remember when you came in to do your Superman speech for that class, and that we had become friends after that. Memorable. This is a great loss for STU (something that they will surely come to regret later), for he built up such an incredible network, and affected so many lives for the better.
Thank you for your eloquent letter.