Campus, News

Popular chemistry professor parts ways with CSULB

Students at Long Beach State were surprised to learn that a popular chemistry professor resigned just before the fall 2019 semester started.

Former professor Tom Gufrey’s rise to fame came at the end of the spring 2019 semester after a video of him conducting experiments in his chemistry 100 class went viral on Twitter

One of Gufrey’s previous students, Daniel Mendez, posted the video, which gained over 11 million views. The tweet alerted administrators that “dangerous” experiments were still being performed after previous warnings were given to Gufrey by administration.

“I’m not sure if I regret posting the video because I was able to show the world what an amazing professor he was,” Mendez said. “He deserved so much recognition for his underrated work.”

According to Gufrey, one of his experiments resulted in an explosion in the classroom years ago and administrators almost fired him. However, campus officials decided they were going to monitor the demonstrations he performed for his classes.   

Over the years, the demonstrations escalated to the ones shown in the video, such as small explosions and colorful glowing balloons, though Gufrey stressed he always kept safety in mind.

The experiments displayed in the video concerned CSULB officials, and they contacted him on Aug. 1 via email to address the way that he taught. The former professor said he couldn’t sacrifice his style of teaching, so he chose to resign.

“I’m sad to leave, but I hope to make it clear that I’m not bitter,” Gufrey said. “I’m sad, but I brought it on myself.”

Tom Gufrey, former chemistry professor at CSULB demonstrates what rubbing alcohol, water and salt can do when it comes in contact with an open flame. Ryan Guitare/Daily Forty-Niner

Kris Slowinsky, the associate dean for academic programs, said they were sad to see him go but respect his decision to leave.

“Tom Gufrey is a one-of-a-kind teacher with an incredible passion for both the subject matter and his students,” Slowinski said. “We will miss him and wish him all the best in his retirement.”

In 2012 the Princeton Review named Gufrey one of the top undergraduate teachers in America. In his 32 years teaching at CSULB Gufrey has gained popularity and love from his students.

When his former students heard he resigned, they worked together to create a petition, spearheaded by Lindsey Sassen-Mysior, to reinstate him as a professor. There are over 14,000 signatures on the petition, though there is no guarantee that Gufrey will be rehired. 

Jeff Cook, CSULB associate vice president of strategic communications, said the administration disagrees with the premise of the petition but will make further statement if Sassen-Mysior reaches out.

In his classes, Gufrey stressed the importance of teaching respect and kindness in a classroom environment. He said that respecting students is part of what made him such a popular teacher.

Mendez said that Gufrey’s class was always full because of the way he taught. 

“It was always something to look forward to, and the fact that other students may not be able to experience such a fun and impactful class disappoints me,” Mendez said.

Now that Gufrey has closed this chapter of his life, he plans to spend more time with his family. He said he is excited to help at his grandchildren’s preschool doing what he loves: teaching chemistry.

Gufrey wants to turn this experience into a learning moment for the university to respect students. 

“I wish they could have worked with me,” he said. “That’s not going to happen, I’m not coming back, and that’s OK.”

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