Dr. R.J. Maratea, professor of criminal justice, won the College of Arts and Sciences Professor of the Year Award for the 2017 to 2018 academic year. The announcement was made at the 2018 Student Leadership Awards ceremony, according to Sarah Miller, chair of the Dean’s Undergraduate Student Cabinet.
Maratea is one of two criminal justice professors whose contracts were not renewed for the 2018 to 2019 academic year. He and Professor Dana Greene will not be returning in the fall.
The Setonian reported on a series of concerns voiced by students about the criminal justice department during the spring 2018 semester. Students reported concerns about the rigor of the curriculum, lack of stability within the faculty and lack of adequate funding for the department. Students also met with administrators on multiple occasions – including a forum held on April 12 and a meeting with the provost on May 4 – in order to make sure they were being heard.
A few students shared their opinions about Maratea winning Professor of the Year.
Gabrielle Acquaviva, a senior criminal justice major, said that Maratea is deserving of the award for many reasons.
“He is passionate about the content he discusses and cares about how that information is being relayed to the students,” she said. “He is attentive to student needs, educational or personal, and is willing to be a friend as well as an authority figure when appropriate to take on each role. All around, he just cares. He cares about what he teaches. He cares about the students.”
Acquaviva said that it is because of these traits that she is sad to hear that Maratea will not be returning to Seton Hall.
“I am devastated to see this professor go,” she said. “That being said, I am so proud that the student body has spoken up enough to give this genuinely deserving and hardworking individual this award.”
Thomas Rukaj, also a senior criminal justice major, agreed that Maratea was deserving of the award.
“I had R.J. for four different classes,” he said. “In each class, I was challenged and pushed to become a better student. The amount I learned in his classes transcended the course content.”
Rukaj went on to describe Maratea outside of the classroom.
“I had several meetings with him throughout his time at the university and got to know him pretty well,” he said. “We did not agree on all issues, but he helped me understand more about the field of criminal justice, and society as a whole. He gave excellent advice and was headstrong in his ethics. It was refreshing to have him at the university.”
Like Acquaviva, Rukaj is upset to learn that Maratea will not be returning to Seton Hall.
“It was an absolute mistake to let R.J. leave,” he said. “If there were any way to somehow have him return, I would advise it. You simply cannot justify letting the Professor of the Year go.”
Francesca Bielar, a junior criminal justice and psychology double major, was also happy to hear that Maratea won Professor of the Year.
“As one of the people who recommended him for this prestigious award, I am glad to hear he has received it,” she said. “Dr. Maratea is a wonderful professor who challenged his students both inside and outside of the classroom.”
Bielar is also sad to see Maratea leave Seton Hall.
“I believe it was wrong to not renew RJ’s contract,” she said. “I consider myself incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from both [Maratea and Greene] of these amazing professors and I am very sad to see them go.”
Maratea himself said that while he did not attend the Student Leadership Award ceremony or accept the physical award, he appreciates the students’ recognition of his efforts.
“I feel the decision to terminate me had nothing to do with the quality of my work and was made irrespective of any candid consideration of student welfare or academic quality in the criminal justice department,” Maratea said.
Maratea then said that his contract not being renewed is one of the risks associated with being an untenured member of the faculty, and that he is not a victim. Despite this, he said that he will miss Seton Hall and hopes that students try not to take themselves too seriously.
“Students tend to be so stressed out and paranoid about grades and their future, but college is an exercise in self-discovery and nobody but each student can define their success,” he said. “Learning is a process and students should not define themselves based on a bunch of letters on a piece of paper.”
He concluded by offering some advice to his former students going forward.
“I would tell them to be good to themselves and to each other,” he said. “I try and teach my students to have empathy for others and an open mind, question the world (and authorities) around them, and most importantly laugh at themselves once in a while.”
Peter Shoemaker, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, offered his congratulations to Maratea, but declined to comment further.
Isabel Soisson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.