SDSU receives grant to teach semantics

by Staff

UNDER HIS SPELL: Former hypnotist Sanford Berman speaks to a group honoring him after he donated a total of $700,000 to SDSU and UCSD.

The San Diego State University School of Communication is $350,000 richer thanks to a gift from a former hypnotist.

Sanford Berman was known in San Diego as nightclub hypnotist Michael Dean for 30 years before moving his show to Las Vegas.

But he’s back in San Diego now with $350,000 in grants for both SDSU and UCSD.

“(His gift) is creating a legacy dedicated to the practice of good communication,” SDSU President Stephen Weber said at yesterday’s reception honoring Berman.

According to Mike Real, director of the School of Communication, the money will go toward a series of things, including a new communication elective, which will teach general semantics.

Larry Samovar will teach “The Power of Language” next Fall, and Berman is scheduled to lead several guest lectures during the semester.

“This class is for people who are interested in the study of language,” Samovar said.

Samovar said he once taught a class wherein a large unit was devoted to semantics, but he couldn’t recall the last time such a large focus was placed on it.

General semantics is defined as the study of the relationship between language and human behavior. Berman called it a scientific method.

The grant will also be used to support student scholarships, visiting lecturers, a regional conference on general semantics, and graduate student and faculty research.

UCSD Chancellor Robert Dynes called it a happy day for UCSD, SDSU and the San Diego community.

The Sanford I. Berman Chair in Language and Human Communication will be established at UCSD in order to, according to Dynes, recruit a top-rate scholar well versed in the importance of the study of language as a mediator of human activity.

“It’s an enormously generous endowment and is an important complement to the department,” Dynes said.

After living and working in Las Vegas, Berman said he chose to return to San Diego because this is where he made his money.

“It’s a wonderful place,” he said.

Berman added: “I think that unless you’re helping other people, life is not worth living.”

“I’m concerned about communication,” Berman told the gathering. “I used to tell students you can’t be an (effective leader and communicator) until you can effectively communicate to a group of 110 people.”

He added that this kind of reception made him feel appreciated.

“Who ever heard of a nightclub hypnotist getting this kind of response?”

However, Berman’s fortune wasn’t made on the San Diego and Las Vegas nightclub circuit.

“While people were busy calling me a phony hypnotist, I was busy buying and selling apartment buildings,” he said.

He added that there is a lot of false knowledge about hypnosis.

But KFMB Channel 8 photographer Colleen Murphy believes in hypnosis. In fact, she was once hypnotized by Berman.

“When you’re hypnotized you remember it all,” she said. “You are not unconscious; you are definitely aware of everything you are doing. It’s like a form of conscious between awake and asleep.”

Murphy said Berman told her she had a chicken on her nose, and while she knew there was no chicken on her nose, subconsciously she was going along with it.

“I kind of went along with everything in this state of mind. But when he put a chair under my head and another chair under my ankles and then stood on me, I believed in hypnosis. I couldn’t have done that if I wasn’t hypnotized,” Murphy said.

Berman received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota, a master’s degree from the Teacher’s College at Columbia University and a doctorate in communication from Northwestern University.

He became a hypnotist while in college to make some extra money. But he said he is now ready to pursue his real passion: language and education.

Daily Aztec contributor Adam Harju contributed to this article.