by Liz Fonseca ’13, Presidential Assistant, Public Relations
Dr. Albert Kipa has had quite the career. As an expert in Germano- Slavic literary and cultural relations, he has lectured in cities across the world including Freiburg, Mainz, Munich, Prague, Rome, Kiev, Lviv, Moscow and Warsaw. However, the most rewarding city in which Kipa has lectured is much closer to home – Allentown, where, over the last five decades, Kipa has taught and mentored thousands of Muhlenberg students.
Kipa retired this past spring from his position as Professor Laureate of German and Russian and J. & F. Saeger Professor of Comparative Literature in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures (LLC) after 46 consecutive years of service to the College.
Kipa was born in Kiev, Ukraine and immigrated to New York with his family at age 11. He received his B.A. in German and Russian from the City College of New York, and just five days after receiving this degree, he began teaching at his alma mater, confirming his love of teaching languages and literature. Soon after, he began an assistantship at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his Ph.D. in Germano-Slavic literary relations in 1972.
Kipa accepted a position teaching at Muhlenberg in 1966, knowing it was the right place. For him, it was located perfectly between New York and Philadelphia, and he appreciated that ‘Berg’s size allowed him to maintain close relationships with students, which he insists have been the backbone of his career, saying they underwent “an exploration of the world together.”
It was also crucial to him that the College champion the liberal arts. Kipa says, “The liberal arts experience provides you with a foundation in what it means to be human.”
His Russian, German and English literature courses “encouraged students to see literature as art, as a significant reflection of life and as an imaginative extension of its possibilities” while through his language courses he tried to “opened up their eyes to a broader perception of the world.”
The versatility and breadth of Kipa’s remarkable career makes any attempt at a complete list of achievements impossible. He has received the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award as well as a huge number of prestigious national and international awards, including the Fulbright and Ukraine’s presidential “Order of Merit.” He served on a National Advisory Council to the newly created U.S. Department of Education from 1980 to 1982 and has acted as author or editor for an extensive number of books, articles and reviews.
At Muhlenberg, Kipa served as the LLC department head for 12 years. In addition to that, he says it feels as if he has devoted time to “every imaginable committee on campus,” even acting as the faculty advisor to the ice hockey club for five years “because my sons (’98 and ‘01) were ice hockey fanatics.”
When asked what he will miss about ‘Berg, Kipa says, “The most important part of the job was interacting with students and colleagues. I am going to miss those daily interactions, but the relationships I have with everyone will remain.”
Looking forward, Kipa says, “In some respects, I want to cut back on the broad range of activities I was involved with,” but he laughingly points out that “retirement is not as if you’re exiled,” as some students and faculty members seem to believe when they see him on campus now. Kipa will continue his scholarly work and is excited to travel more and spend time with his wife of 46 years, Oksana. He will also continue to serve as the President for the Ukrainian Academy of the Arts and Sciences in the US.
At his retirement dinner last May, Kipa was deeply touched when he was presented with a video montage of faculty members, staff and students wishing him well and recalling his years at Muhlenberg.
In his farewell message, Provost John Ramsay said, “Professor Al Kipa has been one of Muhlenberg College’s most renowned, most respected teacher-scholars…He is also one of our wisest colleagues. He is a thoughtful man about the big issues of both the faculty and of the College at large. He has always expressed himself in conversations and disagreements about the direction of the College in very civil tones…He was always the most enjoyable and thoughtful companion and conversationalist.”
This is only one short message among dozens from members of the Muhlenberg community, thanking Kipa for being a mentor, a role model and a friend. Thinking of the video, Kipa smilingly states, “I had a lot of good friends at the College that expressed kind words. I realized why I never thought of retiring before.”