Scholar steps down
Published: Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 21:12
A scholar can never quench a thirst for education and exploration. An activist cannot stop trying to help solve the issues that plague the world. A renaissance man cannot teach a classroom full of dazed, apathetic zombies. An advocate for reading and education cannot stand it when some choose to indulge in meaningless activities rather than in the words of a book.
English professor Fritz Pointer fits all of these personas and has put up with the wait long enough. He will be leaving it all behind him.
After serving the college for 22 years, Pointer, now 67 years old, is planning to travel the world, spend time with his family, write and pursue a more pleasing life in his retirement.
"I'm retiring because it's time for me," Pointer said. "I've had a wonderful career."
A dedicated instructor
Pointer's colleagues consider him as one of the best teachers on campus and see his void as a misfortune to students who want to gain the most out of their classes.
"He is a wonderful man and a terrific scholar," sociology professor J. Vern Cromartie said. "When he leaves, Contra Costa College will suffer a great loss."
Pointer is known for pushing his students to think critically about mainstream topics, current events and popular viewpoints.
"He's a traditional instructor," English department co-Chairwoman Joy Eichner-Lynch said. "He'll challenge you. Most students don't get that he looks at education as the one safe place where they can think outside of the box."
Students often complain about Pointer's curriculum and his outspoken nature, but his colleagues see that as one of the best traits about his teaching style.
"Good teachers piss students off. He wouldn't be doing his job if he wasn't," Eichner-Lynch said. "In the old days, there were no Critical Thinking classes because every class made you think. Nobody challenges anyone in this country anymore."
Pointer said he forces students to think about the topics and issues that are affecting them even when they are unwilling to learn.
"I do believe in maintaining academic standards," Pointer said.
Former Contra Costa College student Ptah Mitchell began taking Pointer's classes in the early '90s.
"I really didn't have any motivation to go to college," Mitchell, a former Richmond resident, said. "Coming from the hood, I didn't really think I was going to become anything."
Mitchell began taking his classes more seriously once he enrolled in Pointer's class.
"Stepping inside of that class and seeing a black intellectual inspired me," Mitchell said.
Mitchell, who continued on to San Francisco State, said Pointer inspired him to become a teacher and a writer through his hard work ethic. He said he remembers having to rewrite English papers over and over until he got them to a professional level.
"He wasn't just settling for any old type of work. He was looking for top-notch quality work," Mitchell said. "When you're taking a class with Fritz Pointer, you're getting a university-level education."
Mitchell also credits Pointer for teaching him how to think critically about current events.
"He's teaching you not only how to write but also how to think," Mitchell said. "If you're not ready to think, you shouldn't take Frtiz's class."
English department co-Chairman John Gregorian said Pointer is always trying to help students understand why dealing with issues is important.
"He holds a high standard and that's just what we need," Gregorian said. "He's very receptive to trying new things in the classroom."
African-American studies department chairwoman Carolyn Hodge said although students may not realize it, Pointer's attitude toward education is only for their benefit.
"He loves students who take on challenge," Hodge said. "He wants to stimulate discussion."
To those who work alongside him in the lower floor of the Liberal Arts Building, Pointer is one of most highly-respected faculty members at the college.
"He's so intelligent and I love listening to his thoughts," Hodge said. "(After) talking to him, I always feel smarter."
Cromartie considers Pointer to be more than just a co-worker. "I see Fritz as a big brother," he said. "I'm very thankful for his friendship."
Other instructors often look up to Pointer for teaching ideas and activities.
"He's inspiring because his mind is always working," Eichner-Lynch said. "He is creative and imaginative— he's open."
Cromartie and Pointer often meet for lunch on and off campus to discuss teaching practices and new curriculum.
"He's one of my best friends and I look to him for leadership and guidance," Cromartie said. "He's really influenced me in terms of trying to draw out the potential of students."
Others know Pointer as a smooth talker with a non-serious side displayed outside of the classroom.
"Fritz has a jovial side — he has a great laugh," Gregorian said. "It's always fun to see him."
Liberal Arts Division Dean Helen Kalkstein said she got to know Pointer's fun side when he started telling jokes around the copying machine when they met nearly 20 years ago.
"He's just a pleasure to be with," Kalkstein said. "He's very warm, caring, entertaining, hardworking and funny."
Hodge said she can look to Pointer if anything is bothering her or if she just needs new ideas.
"If there was anything that was going on, I could go to his office," Hodge said. "What's stimulating for professors is talking to each other."
Making history, setting standards
Born to ministers Elton and Sarah Pointer, Fritz grew up with Christianity all around him. He began challenging religion at an early age and is now an atheist. He often discusses religion in his English classes.