A Tribute to Rulon Garfield

By William O. Shakespeare

During the 1980s-1990s, I served as Director of the Reading-Writing Center at BYU. Sometime during the late eighties, Rulon Garfield, whom I didn’t know, dropped into my office at the Center, sat on my couch, and after some pleasantries, asked if he could hire me to help him write a letter of application. He explained that he was applying for a position as the president of Weber State University. I told him I liked the challenge of the task and would help him gratis. I asked him to forward me his vita, asked for his deadline of submission, and scheduled our next appointment.

I noted on his vita, that Rulon was a graduate of Weber State. At that next meeting, I asked him to tell me about his experience as a student there. He had enjoyed his undergraduate years. We selected a couple of anecdotes from his experiences, laced them with his professional achievements, and composed a letter both of us thought was a positive representation of his credentials to be the next president of Weber State.

As I recall, Rulon reported that there were twenty-nine candidates for the position. A series of meetings with the Board systematically reduced that number. Rulon underwent a number of interviews with the Board until eventually he was one of the three finalists for the position. He wasn’t the next president, but it was particularly meaningful to him that from a pool of elite candidates, he was one of the three finalists. Always after that experience, he would introduce me to acquaintances as the man who got him to be one of the three finalists for President of Weber State University. And he enjoyed that I would respond that except for my help with his letter, he would have been the President. The friendship forged through that experience was instrumental in my decision to pursue a PhD in Educational Leadership.

During the process of my coursework, I took a course from Rulon. Before enrolling for the course, I told him I’d like to take his class. He was genuinely pleased that I had chosen his course and asked if I would edit the text he had written for the course. That course was one of the most memorable classes of my graduate studies.

In particular, there was a unit on negotiation. The chapter in the text began with a discussion of the role of negotiation in professional situations, then provided a discussion of the various theoretical stances occupied by negotiators: win-lose; lose-lose; win-win. The chapter concluded with a discussion of the pros and cons of each relationship and final outcome, concluding that even in a non-religious setting, it was more than just ethical that the outcome should be win-win for both negotiating parties.

The class met once weekly for three hours. One evening after a provoking negotiation discussion, Rulon had the class do a practicum. He divided us into pairs, giving each of us a handout that described our objective. Before leaving the classroom, all of us were told that according to the information on our sheets we were to negotiate, and not return to the classroom until we had reached an agreement. I still think Rulon stacked the cards on that assignment. I wasn’t acquainted with my negotiating opponent. We left the classroom, went out in the hall, and sat under the coat hangers to read our information sheets. When we were done reading we discovered that my opponent was theoretically a broker from the Middle East who had in his possession a vintage 1958 Cadillac in excellent condition. I was an American broker who had a client wanting to purchase a Cadillac of that year in excellent condition. However, my Middle East contact didn’t know how much my client was willing to pay, and I didn’t know how much the Middle East broker had paid for the car.

Since I was editing the text as we worked through the course, I had read the material carefully. I’d also paid attention in class. I don’t know if my classmate had not read the text, or if he had not listened in the lecture to the focal central idea of a preferred win-win outcome. I discovered very soon that he came to our negations with a win-lose mentality. He was a large gentleman with intensive, determined eyes, a jutting jaw, and he leaned into my personal space as we sat under the coat racks and negotiated over that car. He informed me that he wanted a hundred seventy-five thousand dollars for his car. I was foolishly honest with him. I informed him that my client was willing to pay one hundred thirty-five thousand. My opponent still insisted on one hundred seventy-five thousand dollars.

I asked him (perhaps with some sarcasm in my voice) how I could pay one hundred seventy-five thousand dollars for a car, transport it from Iran to the Western United States, refurbish it, sell it to a buyer for one hundred thirty-five thousand dollars, and make a profit. He said he still wanted one hundred seventy-five thousand dollars.

I reminded him that our instructor had emphasized that a negotiation in which both parties win was the ideal outcome. I proposed that he disclose (as I had done) the amount that he had invested in the car, that we then split equally the difference between what he had paid and what my client was willing to pay after transporting and refurbishing costs. He wouldn’t budge; nor would he tell me what he had paid for the car. He wouldn’t split the profit equally. Then I suggested that he pay transporting costs, and that I take the greater risk of refurbishing costs. He just sat and firmly demanded one hundred seventy-five thousand dollars.

I pointed out that this was an academic exercise that neither of us was actually going to lose any money on the transaction. I insisted that Dr. Garfield wanted both of us to win. I pointed out that all the other negotiating teams had long returned to the classroom. I tried every theoretical approach I could think of to close the deal. Still he wouldn’t budge. His bottom price was one hundred seventy-five thousand dollars.

Eventually a class member came out to inform us that Dr. Garfield would like us to wrap up our negotiations and return to the classroom within three minutes. Five minutes later, the student returned to ask us to return in one minute. A minute later I threw my arms in the air, stood up, and headed for the classroom negotiation unresolved.

How much did my broker adversary pay for the Cadi? $4,500 dollars. What was my broker classmate’s reason for his obstinacy? Did Dr. Garfield set him up to show the class that sometimes negotiations fail? Lose-lose really does happen. I don’t know. But it was certainly a realistic exercise in the frustration of negotiation.

I finished my PhD. The years quickly passed, and Rulon eventually retired. We saw each other occasionally on campus, visited at basketball games, sat together at a track meet. I too have retired. We used to visit fairly often as we met by fortuitous chance at Day’s Market on Canyon Road. We’d have long visits in the corner by the over-ripe bananas, turnips, and cabbages. His wife’s health began to fail. Eventually I attended her funeral. I didn’t, regrettably, attend Rulon’s funeral. I didn’t hear about his death until the day after his funeral when I learned of his death from his daughter-in-law, one of my former tutors in the Reading-Writing Center.

Having been a teacher at BYU myself, I was aware that behind the classroom façade of every faculty there is a mortal person. What I admired about Rulon Garfield was that he was personable in the classroom, unpretentious, and unthreatened. The red I profusely bled on his textbook and my presence in his classroom totally unaffected his confidence as a teacher or the warmth of our friendship. I might have taken advantage of our friendship by requesting that he be a member of my dissertation committee. I didn’t, but I’m sure that though he would have been supportive our friendship would not have influenced his ability to function critically and fairly in that capacity. He was just that rare kind of human being. Rulon Garfield was a model for me that a university teacher does not have to compromise friendship, assume a superior air, and maintain a professional distance from the students to be an effective classroom teacher. He inspired me to be a more personable teacher who extended relationships beyond the classroom. I wish there were more of Rulon Garfield in all of us.