Professor retires but leaves her mark on J/MS students

By Jake West —

Montague Kern is so affable and reserved that her retirement as a J/MS professor managed to slip by somewhat unceremoniously this year. Behind her humility, though, she hides ample experience in global media, gender relations and documentary film, which will surely cement a proud and impressive legacy.

Montague Kern has retired after 23 years of teaching at J/MS. Photo by Jake West.
Montague Kern has retired after 23 years of teaching at J/MS. Photo by Jake West.

After 23 years of teaching, Kern now holds the title of professor emeritus, which allows her the opportunity to work on her new book about the growing social and political role of documentary film in the digital age. More important to Kern, however, is that the position also allows her to work hands-on with her close-knit group of Ph.D. students as they craft their own documentary films.

This work will entail, as it has for the last two decades, frequent trips from her home in Washington, DC, to the Banks. She joked that she knows the New Jersey Turnpike intimately and affectionately claims that her book will feature “Exit 9” in the subtitle.

When asked about her most rewarding experience, Kern replied simply, “I taught at Rutgers for 23 years because of the students.” She further added, “I loved the ‘aha’ moments that occur in the classroom, and I loved working with students for most of my years on the research and term papers that were required in my classroom.

This is the poster that advertised the program by Montague Kern.
This is the poster that advertised the program by Montague Kern.

“Students left understanding how to conduct research as well as test the value of ideas which arose in the classroom.”

In recent years she has tailored her focus to document areas of politics and social significance, namely how the global agendas of social movements and policy makers are publicized via documentary media. While her work entails crafting a documentary of her own, she seems equally interested in helping her students to develop their film proposals.

Undoubtedly, Kern’s pride is a product of her experience as an educator and from the success shared by her students. She recalled, “I enjoyed engaging with them in the classroom and working with them on papers from the first day I came to Rutgers. Students frequently ended up in my office in DeWitt (a building housing SC&I offices) to bat around ideas relating to their papers.”

Among Kern’s most well known students from her pre-Rutgers days is the award- winning documentary filmmaker and co-founder of Skylight Pictures, Pamela Yates. In October, Yates keynoted the “Mediating Advocacy: A Symposium on Women, Global Documentary Media, and Agenda Setting” at Rutgers. Kern took the lead in programming the symposium.

The two-day event highlighted a festival and multi-part panel discussion that focused on the proliferation of documenting technologies and the human condition, as understood by prominent media makers, analysts and organizers from around the world.

Yates talked about her dynamic new film “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator,” which tells the extraordinary story of how a film about former Guatemala dictator Efraín Rios Montt’s brutal war against the country’s Mayan people in the 1980s became a granito — a tiny grain of sand — that helped tip the scales of justice.

Co-sponsors were the School of Communication and Information, the Center for Latino Arts and Culture, and the Institute for Women’s Leadership, among other campus organizations.

The festival concluded with a reception at the Rutgers Club for a long overdue and much needed appreciation of Kern on her retirement.