Marquette German professor wrestles with immigration, sexuality, religion
by Michael Lenoch
The class erupts into laughter. Jamison used his most effective teaching strategies: humor.
Marquette University German language professor Robert Jamison, 70, describes himself as “halfway intelligent, thin-skinned, narcissistic and of course, homosexual.”
Tyler Luiten, adjunct assistant professor of German, said Jamison reminds him to have fun in the classroom and that he should not take himself too seriously.
According to another of Robert Jamison’s colleagues, associate professor of German John Pustejovsky, said, “Jamison is somebody that students trust.” The fellow German professor continued, “They recognize he is candid with them and that evokes candor in students.”
“What makes Jamison so different,” Luiten said, “is that he never complains about his students.”
Before teaching at Marquette, Jamison had a myriad of experiences to draw upon.
Born “pre-legitimate” and raised by a widowed grandmother on welfare in the hill country of southern Ohio, Jamison faced a troublesome early life.
However, academics proved an escape from home life. He was the first in his family to receive a high school diploma. Later, the self-styled “hillbilly” graduated from Ohio State University.
While at Ohio, Jamison received a prestigious Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship scholarship thanks to his most beloved professor’s recommendation, Oskar Seidlin.
Seidlin was instrumental in Jamison’s love of German. Jamison coined Seidlin as the “grand old man of American Germanics.”
Reminiscing about Seidlin’s impact, he said, “he and I clicked, we absolutely clicked” and feels inadequate compared to him.
The scholarship allowed him to study abroad in Freiburg, Germany in 1962. Jamison was one of only two students from Ohio sent to Germany with the scholarship.
He chose to study in Germany for two years. That’s when he met his first partner, Jochen.
Jamison returned to Ohio to graduate with a major in German and history. After that, he completed graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1965.
Then Jamison received his doctorate degree in German in 1969 and worked as an assistant professor of German at the University of Kansas the following year.
Being away from Jochen, who returned to Germany the year prior, as well as the political climate that struck universities with riots and rage, he dubbed his year at Kansas “miserable.”
Jamison decided to move to Germany to be reunited with Jochen in 1970 and made it his home for the following nine years.
Yet after much strife, the two decided to part ways in 1979.
Jamison received a one-year appointment from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s German Department. But a week before he left Germany in 1979, he met his partner, Klaus Hertweck.
“We met on a park bench,” Jamison chuckles.
Hertweck struck up conversation as Jamison sat down and said, “I don’t do anything.”
Jamison responded, “You shouldn’t refuse offers that haven’t been made yet.”
Tragically, Hertweck returned to Germany in 1980, the same year Jamison began working as an assistant professor of German at Marquette University.
Seven years later, Jamison received tenure and became an associate professor at Marquette and a devout Roman Catholic.
“I find myself in this strange position of being a homosexual man in a long-term 34-year relationship and yet being opposed to gay marriage,” Jamison said.
He and Hertweck were reunited in 1990 when Hertweck worked toward his master’s degree in political science at Marquette.
All was well until Hertweck was denied re-entry into the United States due to a technical violation of his visa in 2009. The two entered a German civil union that year.
Last week, Hertweck was denied re-entry yet again despite waiting four, rather than the required three, years before re-applying for a visa.
“I’m bitter, I’m mad, I’m frustrated,” Jamison said.
Jamison said, “Justice is treating equals equally and unequals unequally.” The German professor argues he and Klaus are “as equal as far as a relationship as anyone together heterosexually.”
“He could have stayed here and been like the other eleven million illegal aliens in this country. Nobody would have cared. I support him completely. He’s worth it to me,” said Jamison.
Jamison anticipates spending his retirement with Klaus in Germany.
“An important part of Jesuit education is that you challenge students and get them to think more deeply and say more, and that’s what he does,” Pustejovsky said.