Unconventional Art History Teacher Fights Termination


Kurt left Princeton in 1965, where he had completed a one-year teaching position, to take an Acting Assistant Professor's position at UCLA in Los Angeles. He was warmly welcomed by Frederick Wright, Chairman of the Department of Art, who confirmed his salary of $8,600 per year for a two-year engagement, beginning at the autumn semester. He was elevated to the position of Assistant Professor in 1966. Those warm feelings changed as time progressed; Kurt's unconventional teaching style, course content and campus activity endeared him to UCLA's students but alienated other professors and the school administration. The university decided not to renew his contract, and it was determined by the Committee on Privilege and Tenure that his position would end on June 30, 1968.


Kurt appealed that decision, and great controversy followed. Articles, editorials and letters objecting to the university's decision appeared in the UCLA Daily Bruin, the student newspaper.  A rally on campus was held, and a recording of Kurt's speech has been found in his archives.


Kurt resisted UCLA's decision, and was out-spoken in his opinion that the university was singling him out for the conduct of his classes, despite the university's denials that such was the case. There is no question, however, that Kurt had pushed the boundaries of conventional education in 1966 beyond its limits. His auto-da-fe "book burning" event was just one activity which raised eyebrows.


Over 1,500 students signed a petition to reinstate Kurt, who by all accounts was the most popular professor on campus. The Committee on Privilege and Tenure was flooded with letters of support for Kurt. In the end, however, the university's decision prevailed. For the remainder of his contract, Kurt was assigned to teach small graduate seminars instead of undergraduate classes. He began to search for a new job, and took a one-year position at Cal State in Los Angeles. It was the end of an exciting but tumultuous few years for Kurt as UCLA's rock star professor.