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Gerber gift expands MSU Libraries espionage collection

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A distinguished alumnus with a long involvement in national intelligence has created an endowment to support the specialized field of espionage in the MSU Libraries’ Collections.

Burton Gerber (International Relations, ’55) served in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for 39 years as a case officer and Chief of Station. He was honored with the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal, Intelligence Commendation Medal and William Donovan Award. On three occasions, he was designated a Meritorious Officer. Following his retirement from the CIA, he joined the faculty at Georgetown University, teaching in the graduate program on intelligence policy.  In recognition of his achievements, he was awarded MSU’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2006.
Having grown up in Columbus, Ohio, Burton attended MSU as the recipient of a Detroit Free Press Scholarship Award. He also received a scholarship from the fraternity he joined at MSU, Beta Theta Pi.  Seeking a way to see more of the world, he selected international relations as his major. “I looked around and thought there is a whole world out there, how can I get out in it?” he said. 
Burton enjoyed his time at MSU and is grateful for the heavy influence of the outstanding faculty he came in contact with, including such MSU greats as Ralph Smuckler, Wesley Fishel and Walter Adams.
While an MSU student, Burton also supported himself through part-time and summer jobs. One of his favorites was a position in the MSU Libraries’ Assigned Reading Room. “It was a cool way to have quiet time to read and study and earn a little money at the same time,” he said.
His late wife Rosalie, who also served in the CIA for 18 years, subsequently became a librarian at a university in Tehran, Iran, and at the American Embassy in Moscow, Russia, finishing her career with a major law firm in Washington, D.C. The Gerbers traveled the world and lived in six different countries during their long, happy and supportive marriage. “Anything I am is because of her,” Burton said.
Given the Gerbers’ keen interests in both intelligence and libraries coupled with Burton’s start at MSU, establishing the Burton L. Gerber and Rosalie P. Gerber Endowment for MSU Libraries was a particular pleasure for Burton. He hopes that stimulating this special collection will in turn foster an increased focus on intelligence and security-related scholarship at MSU. Burton has spoken and written on questions of espionage and ethics and its importance in addressing terrorism. He has particularly focused on the need to respect civil liberties and human rights in these efforts. “Intelligence programs are a vital part of national security decision making and execution,” he said. “And libraries are crucially important for research and the preservation of knowledge.” 
Specifically, the endowment supports the acquisition, preservation, and access to a collection of political science/criminal justice materials on intelligence, intelligence policy, intelligence analysis, espionage, covert action, imagery intelligence, counterintelligence and national security. Steven Sowards, assistant director for collection development in the MSU Libraries, noted that “This gift is an excellent fit with existing strengths and future areas of interest for the library collection.  We have strong holdings in both political science and criminal justice, in support of important programs on campus.  At the same time, issues related to espionage, intelligence, and the ethics of national security are of growing interest.  The materials that we will be able to purchase thanks to Professor Gerber's generosity will certainly be used.”
Burton has stayed connected with MSU in many ways over the years.  As a scholarship recipient, he always had the goal of finding a way to pay it back. Together with Rosalie, they funded two student scholarships; one in the College of Social Science and the other in James Madison College where Burton is also a member of the Board of Visitors. He has also funded a scholarship with his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, and with Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.
“I have always believed you have to share what you have with others,” he said. “A lot of us are comfortable and what more can we do with what we have than to help others.”
For more information on the MSU Libraries, visit online at For more information about making a gift to the MSU Libraries, contact Assistant Director of Development Roger Merrifield at (517) 884-6446.