Former SSU provost and pioneering ‘sexuality’ professor Goldstein dies

May 4, 2018
bernard goldstein dressed as darwin

Bernard Goldstein dressed as Darwin. // Photo by Sonoma State University

Former Sonoma State University Provost Bernard “Bernie” Goldstein, a pioneering professor at San Francisco State University in the field of human sexuality, passed away on April 27. He was 82.

Goldstein, who lived in Petaluma, retired in 2003 after five years as provost and vice president of academic affairs at Sonoma State and after serving nearly four decades in the California State University system, including as a professor of biology and an esteemed administrator at San Francisco State University.

Goldstein was considered an expert in the field of reproductive physiology, human sexuality and evolutionary biology and was widely recognized for his exceptional teaching skills, wit and wisdom.

 “The years he spent at Sonoma State as provost and teaching classes in the OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) program were happy years that he held close to his heart for the rest of his life,” said his wife, Estelle Goldstein. “He often described the OLLI students as the bright lights of his week.”

When Goldstein retired in 2003, he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Sonoma State University and a President’s Medal from San Francisco State.

According to his family, Goldstein died in his sleep peacefully after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Goldstein received both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in biology from San Francisco State in 1962 and 1964 respectively and went on to get a Ph.D. in zoology from UC Davis in 1968.  He returned to SFSU in 1969 to teach biology.

In 1991, then Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Goldstein to the Faculty Trustee position on the CSU Board of Trustees. In 1993, he was re-appointed for a second term, which was extended to 1997. He was named Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Sonoma State University in 1998.

One of Goldstein’s most memorable accomplishments was his ground-breaking course in human sexuality, which he started in 1970 in response to requests to make college classes more relevant. It was one of the first such courses of its kind in the nation.

"My goal was to challenge myths and provide sound basic information about sexuality from a scientific, biological perspective," Goldstein said in an interview with SFSU Magazine in 2005. The course quickly proved to be very popular among students

"We had to switch classrooms two or three times," Goldstein said at the time. "The first semester we had 200 [students], then 400. We topped off at 760."

He eventually became co-founder of San Francisco State’s landmark Human Sexuality Studies Program.

“I always believed during my college days that it would be exciting to have a course that talked about human sexuality for what it really is,” he said in an interview in 1999. “Not just the biological foundations of it but the feelings that people have, which are equally important – the connection between the emotions and the cognitive ability to evaluate erotic stimuli.”

Goldstein is survived by his wife Estelle, his son, David, a former public defender who now serves as a Superior Court judge in Contra Costa County, his daughter-in-law Angela, his grandchildren Elliot and Elsa, and numerous relatives on the West Coast.

For more information, contact Paul Gullixson, Associate Vice President Strategic Communications for Sonoma State University at (707) 664-2122 or at

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Paul Gullixson