SFSUs popular sex-ed prof honored on retirement

As the architect of a groundbreaking course on human sexuality, Bernard Goldstein believed in giving college students solid facts and relevant information.

But the San Francisco State alumnus and longtime educator also never passed up a comedic opportunity.

Take, for example, the time he donned a raincoat and began filling a colorful condom with water — lots of it — to demonstrate the holding strength of that particular contraceptive device.

After pouring perhaps three quarts of water into the condom, Goldstein held it over his head for hundreds of students to see. Just then, the thinly stretched rubber burst.

"The kids went berserk," recalled Goldstein. With that, the dripping professor walked over to the blackboard where he had listed various methods of birth control. With a dramatic flourish, he crossed out "condoms."

"My goal was to give sound basic information so most people would not live with mythology," said Goldstein of that historic course back in the 1970s.

"It was kind of an elective," he said. "Much to my surprise, it was very popular."

So popular in fact that his lectures packed the university's 700-seat McKenna Theater to capacity.

Known for both his wit and humility, the 67-year-old Goldstein is retiring after more than three decades as a professor and administrator in the California State University system.

Last Saturday, he was awarded the prestigious President's Medal for Service at SFSU's commencement ceremonies. Tomorrow, he will receive an honorary degree from Sonoma State University, where he has served for five years as provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Longtime members of Congregation Beth Israel-Judea, Goldstein and his wife, Estelle, moved to Petaluma a few years ago so he could be closer to his job at Sonoma State. Estelle Goldstein is a past president at the San Francisco synagogue where her husband previously delivered lectures on human sexuality.

At San Francisco State, Goldstein is "kind of like a legend," said President Robert A. Corrigan. Over the years, Goldstein was a professor of biology, chair of the department and head of the university's academic senate.

Goldstein's "tact and sensitivity and humor made him one of the most popular faculty members at the university," Corrigan said. The university president noted that the wording on Goldstein's citation refers to the recipient as a "mensch." Apart from his "extraordinary sense of humor," Goldstein is "just devoted to education, to students, to people," Corrigan said.

Reared in San Francisco, Goldstein is the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia who never fully understood their child's passion for studying animals.

"I loved to observe nature," said Goldstein, describing how he'd venture off to nearby Golden Gate Park whenever he could to watch spiders, ants and other living organisms.

When he published a book on biology, his father, Jacob, a foreman at a women's clothing factory, commented, "This is very nice, but when are you going to get a trade?"

Goldstein earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in biology at SFSU and doctorate in zoology from U.C. Davis.

He credits mentors at his alma maters for fostering that passion and giving him faith in his own abilities. "I never thought in a million years [that] I had the goods, knowledge and brain power…to go to college, then to teach about something I loved so much," he said.

After getting his degree at U.C. Davis, he returned to SFSU in 1969 to teach biology. Over the years, he taught a dozen different courses, ranging from mammalogy to reproductive physiology to nature study.

During the push in the 1970s to make education relevant, Goldstein introduced his human sexuality course.

His secrets to success as a teacher include a strong knowledge of the subject, devotion to the field, sensitivity and, of course, a sense of humor. Comedy, he said, is "a learning tool. People are more apt to learn something if there's humor attached to it."

Head of SFSU's and then the statewide academic senate, Goldstein was appointed in 1991 as the faculty trustee to the CSU's statewide board. He held that post six years, making him the system's longest-running faculty trustee.

At the state level, he helped develop a collegiality statement guiding decision-making, opposed sharp hikes in student fees and worked to support faculty research.

In 1998, he eagerly launched a third career with the state university system when he became an administrator at Sonoma State.

"CSU is the people's university," said Goldstein, who credits that system with nurturing and guiding his own career.

"It's not elitist; the teaching is excellent. Programs are accessible and they are low-cost.

"If it wasn't for CSU, I wouldn't have done anything I've done."