Michigan State News


"Garskof: the man and the principles"

by The Editors

 "Why would the University want to get rid of such a wonderful teacher?" a coed asked on Tuesday night, referring to the dismissal of Professor "Bert" Garskof by the College of Social Science. Why indeed? The question is a key, opening a Pandora’s box filled with a plague of controversy, of bitter, polarized factions, a plague certain to be carried to the ivory towers of the faculty, borne, ironically on the winds of Garskof’s teachings.

If there is one thing characteristic of Garskof, it is controversy. He elicits only the extremes in emotions from those he comes in contact with. He has supporters and non-supporters – period! There is no middle ground with "Bert" Garskof, only disciples and crucifiers. No one is likely to ever refer to him as that "nice-young-man-what’s-his-name." His name sticks, grating like cracker crumbs in bed.

Perhaps then, in any issue as polarized as this a valid question might be: "Just how valid is any evaluation of Garskof?" What criteria does one use to evaluate a man who elicits only the extremes in a person’s emotional makeup? Indeed, how responsible was the evaluation that led to the decision to dismiss Garskof?


 There are those, Garskof included, who contend that his firing was a political hatchet-job, carried out with all the trappings of the brotherhood dispatching a troublesome member to the bottom of the East River clad in cement galoshes. They contend that he was axed for "not getting along with his colleagues".

There is some evidence that his firing was, at least in part, motivated by political considerations. They are rumblings that Garskof holds himself aloof from the constructive comments of his colleagues, that he is responsible, that he conducts himself in an unprofessional manner and that he is generally antagonistic towards his colleagues and the department’s teaching guidelines.

If true, what has Garskof done to earn the animosity of his colleagues? He has, for one thing, advocated the abolishment of ivory-tower teaching and the return of the classroom to student-control. He has been outspoken in preaching the doctrine of a "free university," a place envisaged to be a marketplace of ideas. His disciples claim he has opened their eyes to the dominant control exercised over the University by the military-industrial complex.

Focus of Criticism

The focus of criticism is presently centered on the methods he uses in teaching his Psychology 490 class. Indeed , the greatest criticism is that he does not, in fact, teach 490; that he is conducting an uncontrolled free-for-all for which he grants blanket A’s. It is 490 that best exemplifies the controversy surrounding Bertram Garskof.

Garskof allows his students to decide what they want to learn. He imposes no structure on his class in the belief that people learn best that in which they are interested.

Psychology 490 represents everything Garskof stands for: the free and unrestricted exchange of ideas between professor and student.

Sadly, his lofty ideals have bee debased by the large numbers of students who flock to his class solely for a guaranteed A. These students are neither interested in his innovative methods not in contributing to what is certainly a rich and rewarding learning experience. There are, therefore, large numbers of students who are learning nothing from Garskof’s class. That they enrolled only for a good time is probably true; that they provide grist for those who disparage his teaching concepts is, unfortunately, also true.

Student irresponsibility

 Such student irresponsibility points sadly to the root of the problem of a man who does not fit easily or simply into the system. Perhaps, unwittingly, the students have helped to precipitate the dismissal of Garskof; had there been no large number of students who had obviously gotten nothing from his class, there would be less grounds on which to criticize his methods.

If Garskof is guilty of anything, perhaps he is guilty of an error-in-judgement. Would his classes be popular if they were on a pass- no credit system of grading? Probably not, but neither would he attract the type of student who is debasing what is an imaginative learning experience. Perhaps he is guilty of assuming that students are ready to assume much more than the they are capable of.

But the way to solve the problem is not to get rid of the professor but to investigate the problem itself. The faculty involved in the dismissal of Garskof resolutely claim a total absence of political considerations in their decision. Such judicial impartiality is highly unlikely however: their antipathy towards Garskof is as extreme as the students’ adulation. They act, perhaps, as if uncomfortable to have him in their midst.

Impartial evaluation?

We have returned to the original question: How impartial is any evaluation of Bertram Garskof? Do the roots of his dismissal lie in some vague personality conflict with his colleagues or, as is stated, in improper teaching techniques? If due to a personality conflict, his dismissal is intolerable; if due to his teaching techniques, it should at least be questionable.

The dismissal of Professor Garskof has been carried out more in the spirit of an Inquisition, than a university.

The vague statement issued by Dean Winder and approved by the Tenure Committee raises the question in many minds of what they fear. We talk about the lofty principles of open discussion at MSU only to discover that what is meant is open discussion between tenured faculty members only – behind locked doors.

Dean Winder and the tenure committee must understand that in firing Bertram Garskof, they are removing one of the more imaginative professors on campus, a professor highly popular with a great number of MSU students.

They have chosen to remove him in the face of large popular support for him from the students. In doing so, they are rebuffing not only the opinion of a large number of students but the concepts of free-teaching for which Garskof stands.

New Crusade?

We are concerned that the dismissal of Garskof will assume the proportions of a Crusade, all and sundry issues gathered together under his banner. The importance of Garskof, and those imaginative principles for which he stands. The University must realize that unless channels are opened for sincere discussion between faculty and those students concerned over the dismissal of Garskof, they are likely to bring home to their ivory towers that same violent reaction which they appear to fear most. Pandora’s box is open and only consideration for the student’s view is likely to close it again.


The Editors