After completing his Ph.D., one of Morrie's first jobs was at a mental hospital in Washington D.C. He was given a grant to observe the patients and their treatments, some of which were horrifying. One patient laid on the floor of the hallway every day while doctors walked over and around her. After sitting with her, Morrie was eventually able to convince her to get up and go back to her room. He realized that all she wanted was for someone to notice her existence. He befriended several other patients, and found that many of them had been ignored in their lives both outside and inside the hospital. They also didn't receive much compassion in the hospital. Many were from rich families, and Morrie concluded that their wealth couldn't make them happy.
These experiences cement Morrie's belief that love and compassion are of the utmost importance. We can't know what any of the official diagnoses for these patients were, but Morrie seems to be of the mind that had they experienced more love, understanding, and connection to others, they wouldn't be institutionalized and so miserable. The fact that Morrie experiences success by simply paying attention to these individuals points to some truth in his belief.
Morrie became a professor at Brandeis in the late 50s. A few years later, the campus was embroiled in the cultural revolution, and many of the students at the forefront of the revolution were in Morrie's classes. As a whole, the sociology department was involved in the movement. When they learned that students would be drafted if they didn't maintain a certain GPA, Morrie suggested that they give all the students As. The department favored discussions over lectures and sent students to the inner city for fieldwork and to the Deep South to participate in civil rights projects. On one occasion Morrie accompanied his students to protest marches in Washington DC, and was amused as women put flowers in guns and then attempted to levitate the Pentagon.
The cultural revolution refers to not just the rise of hippies, but immense cultural changes as well—the advent of the birth control pill, the American Civil Rights movement, opposing war, and experimentation with psychoactive drugs, among other things. By placing the department within the movement, and particularly by keeping male students out of the draft for Vietnam, Morrie championed life and love. Notably, even 30 years before the Tuesday visits with Mitch, Morrie is rejecting modern culture in favor of a countercultural way of living.
Once, a group of black students took over a building on the campus and flew a banner that said "Malcolm X University." The administration worried that the students were making bombs in the chemistry labs in the building, but Morrie believed they just wanted to feel they mattered. After they'd had control of the building for several weeks, a protester noticed Morrie walking by and called for him to come in. When Morrie came back out of the building, he had a list of what the protesters wanted and took it to the administration, which resolved the situation.
Morrie treats these students the same way he dealt with the patients at the mental hospital—by treating them like people who matter. The administration presumably feels the opposite of Morrie about these students, as they are only concerned about their potential for violence.
Morrie's classes were heavy on personal development and light on career skills, but despite experiencing much less financial success than business or law students, Morrie's students continually came back to visit him, especially in Morrie's final months of life.
The text is explicitly asking the reader to consider which is more important—a successful career, or personal fulfillment and friendship. Morrie, we know by now, would (and did) choose the latter.
As the weeks go on, Mitch begins to read about how different cultures view death. He discusses a North American Arctic tribe that believes all creatures on earth have a tiny version of that creature inside them that holds the soul. When the being dies, the tiny version lives on and can either slip into something being born, or temporarily rest in the belly of a great feminine spirit in the sky, waiting for the moon to send it back to earth. Moonless nights happen when the moon is too busy with the souls, although the moon always returns, just like all the spirits.
Mitch's transformation into becoming more like his professor is well underway. Morrie might refer to Mitch's research as spiritual development. The style of writing here, particularly at the end where Mitch stresses that everything returns, alludes to the fact that Mitch is struggling and searching for ways to deal with Morrie's death.