Morris Starsky's Proud Exit
Things keep happening to remind us why both Arizona State University and the Arizona Republic are so decidedly second-rate.
This time it's the death of Dr. Morris J. Starsky, a former ASU philosophy professor who was fired by the Arizona Board of Regents in June 1970 for asserting his First Amendment rights. He died the other day in Cincinnati at age 55.
The firing sent Starsky into a form of exile within his own country. He never again was able to work regularly as a philosophy professor. And a congenital heart condition prevented Starsky from switching to another field.
"Was he embittered?" I asked his wife, Lorraine, over the telephone.
"Not Morris," Mrs. Starsky said. "He had no regrets. Even knowing the outcome, he never would have turned his back on the antiwar movement. Besides, his heart condition made him realize he was living on borrowed time.
"He'd go to the door every morning and bring the newspaper back to the breakfast table. Once in a while, Morris would grin and tell me: `It's a good day, Lorraine. I just looked at the obituary page. Guess what? I'm not on it.'"
Starsky was hounded out of Arizona. His firing took place at a time shortly after the shootings of Kent State students protesting the Vietnam War had plunged the nation's college campuses into turmoil.
Starsky permitted his ASU philosophy students to miss class so that he and they could attend an antiwar rally on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson.
This outraged the superpatriots at the Republic. They gave up writing their anti-freeway editorials for a few days to rabble-rouse the business types on the Board of Regents into firing Starsky.
"Morris knew he was on a blacklist," Mrs. Starsky said. "Over the years, he made hundreds of applications. But he never was able to get another decent job in teaching."
Starsky's case went to court years later and a federal judge here in Phoenix ruled that he'd been fired illegally. By this time, Starsky had been the first man to receive reports of government intervention through the Freedom of Information Act.
The papers proved that the FBI had acted illegally in his case.
After being awarded a settlement of $15,000, Starsky undertook a speaking tour of the nation's campuses. While speaking at Cleveland State University, he was offered a part-time teaching job that lasted for one year.
He taught an introductory philosophy course for which he was paid $600 per quarter.
This remains an object lesson to all Arizona State faculty members that conformity is the prudent course to adopt for those who prefer to eat regularly and keep up their car payments.
No one learned that the Bureau had played a part until the Freedom of Information Act made FBI records available.
J. Edgar Hoover, that great racetrack enthusiast and closet queen, was still running the organization. Hoover's agents, it was revealed in court, put out the word that Starsky should be sacked as a lesson to left-wing profs at ASU and around the country.
Starsky had taught seven years at ASU. He was a fully tenured faculty member. Tenure is something expressly designed to protect professors from this type of quackery.
As a result of the Starsky firing, the American Association of University Professors censured Arizona State for more than ten years.
The censure was a national embarrassment. But college-teaching jobs are difficult to find. So there's no recorded case of a professor who refused a job at ASU because of the Starsky firing.
Starsky was considered a brilliant philosophy professor who had studied at Brandeis University under Herbert Marcuse. It was Marcuse who fled the Nazis and ultimately became a hero to American radicals in the 1960s. He called Starsky his "most brilliant student."
Starsky earned his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan. While at Michigan he became friendly with Tom Hayden, who was still an undergraduate.
Hayden, one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), has since become Mr. Jane Fonda and a beneficiary of the largesse which has poured in from her best-selling exercise tapes.
Starsky used to view Hayden's swing from political idealist to economic pragmatist with bemused detachment.
"Hayden was to the left, all right," Starsky would tell his wife, "but I guess he was never really committed to socialism the way some of us were."
Lorraine Starsky had one thing more to say before ending the telephone conversation.
"Morris was a good man who made a difference," she said. "He never felt that he'd been defeated. He loved to teach. He missed that part of his life. But Morris was convinced he'd remained true to his ideals."
And that's not a small thing for a man to go out with.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Inmates Accuse Arizona of Experimenting with Lethal-Injection Drugs
Thu., Dec. 10, 6:25pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:00pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
- Scottsdale Couple Are Pioneers in Tiny-Home Movement in Arizona
- LGBTQ Mormons Lose Faith in Church After Announcement of Anti-Gay Policy