A football coach and history teacher from Grand Valley State University was suspended from his position at the University after comments made during a student-led interview about Adolf Hitler.
Since his suspension, the coach's job as "Offensive Coordinator" took on a whole new meaning on campus.
When Morris Berger sat down with the Sports Editor for an interview in Grand Valley's student paper, Lanthorn, he surely wasn't expecting to be removed from his position at the University. After giving such problematic answers during the interview, however, the school probably couldn't risk such ill representation.
The interview was fairly typical of what might appear in a student-led publication, filled with thoughtful but predictable content. The questions included where Berger had taught previously, what some of the differences were between teaching high school and college students and what his greatest joys were in coaching football.
The closing questions—included specifically because of Berger's position as a history teacher—would be safe in most cases, as well.
Kellen Voss, the Sports Editor for Lanthorn, asked:
"So you graduated from Drury with a degree in History, you're a history guy. If you could have dinner with three historical figures, living or dead, who would they be? And I'm ruling out football figures."
The Dinner Party question is commonly used in to encourage critical thinking and deductive reasoning. But usually the people playing choose someone like Shakespeare or Martin Luther King, Jr.
Berger's first choice was, in a word, surprising, especially coming from a teacher.
"This is probably not going to get a good review, but I'm going to say Adolf Hitler. It was obviously very sad and he had bad motives, but the way he was able to lead was second-to-none. How he rallied a group and a following, I want to know how he did that. Bad intentions of course, but you can't deny he wasn't a great leader."
When asked later, interviewer Voss stated he attempted to be composed and polite to Berger, despite not knowing how to react to the faculty member's first choice.
Voss simply responded:
"The way [Hitler] was able to get people to rally around him was crazy."
Berger didn't seem to catch onto Voss' discomfort and continued in his selection of who would appear at his fictional dinner.
"Yeah, that's definitely one. You have to go JFK, his experience with the country and being that he was a good President and everything. And this might sound crazy, but Christopher Columbus, the ability to go on the journey he was on and his emotion into the unknown. Think about putting yourself in the setting of that unknown, and then to take it all in as you arrive is crazy."
The interview ended with Berger's final dinner party response, after he not only included the infamous Adolf Hitler, but also another man now better known for the genocide of millions of Caribbean Indigenous peoples, torture, slavery and rape during his expeditions: Christopher Columbus.
The interview appeared in Lanthorn for the entire student body to see, which the Editor-in-Chief later stated was a mistake due to lack of oversight. Berger was confronted about his responses and then suspended from his position at the University.
The school quickly issued a statement as well, saying:
"The comments made by Offensive Coordinator Morris Berger, as reported in The Lanthorn student newspaper, do not reflect the values of Grand Valley State University."
When the University made the announcement on Twitter, the responses to Berger's suspension were evenly divided.
Some claimed that the coach shouldn't have been suspended, but instead fired as a history teacher and coach, based on his responses.
Others stated that the school issued an unnecessary suspension, as the coach didn't indicate the moral value of Hitler or Columbus, but rather, their abilities.
As Berger currently stands suspended, he will eventually return to Grand Valley as a teacher and coach, though it's unclear as to how soon.
Hopefully, at the time of his return, he and school officials will have a critical conversation about his responses, to truly clarify his reasoning and alignment with the school's mission.