The Firings: Three Professors Sacked, Three Others Put on Probation

When the hearings were over the University was left with charges of communism among its faculty and the question of what to do. Could Allen have chosen not to act on the information from the hearings? Sanders thinks not. The regents had publicly indicated their intention to proceed if Allen didn't. Regent Joseph Drumheller had even stated at one point that he knew there was "subversive activity" on the campus. Rather than defy the committee and his bosses, Allen responded to faculty pleas for sovereignty in the matter. He named a faculty committee to determine who would face dismissal, promising that those charged would receive a hearing before the Faculty Senate's Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom.

Those considered uncooperative at the Canwell hearings paid the price. The committee decided to charge Phillips, Butterworth and Gundlach, who had refused to testify, as well as Eby, Ethel and Jacobs, who had admitted past membership in the Communist Party but had refused to name others.

Communist Party membership was not grounds for dismissal in the University's tenure code, but the administration tried to claim the "good behavior" and "efficient and competent service" called for in the code could be interpreted broadly by the committee. Accordingly, their only charge against Phillips and Butterworth was that they were members of the Communist Party. To this charge against Gundlach, they added others revolving around his alleged dishonesty with Allen early in the investigation (He said "No one can prove I'm a Communist, and I cannot prove that I am not."). Eby, Ethel and Jacobs were similarly charged with dishonesty, based on their initial denial of their past membership on the advice of their lawyers. The six-week-long hearings, during which the professors were accorded the right to present their own cases, were closed to the public.

The outcome of the hearings was not what the administration had hoped for. The committee was unanimous only in recommending that Eby, Ethel and Jacobs not be dismissed. It voted 8 to 3 against firing Phillips and Butterworth, despite their open admission that they were members of the Communist Party, rejecting the administration's plea for a broad interpretation of the tenure code. And it recommended dismissal of Gundlach by a 7 to 4 vote, mainly on the basis of what members saw as his dishonesty with Allen.

In his advice to the regents, Allen chose to overrule the committee. He agreed with the recommendation to dismiss Gundlach but also advised that Phillips and Butterworth be fired. He went along with the committee on the other three. Why did Allen take such a hard line? Sanders believes he knew that some people would have to be fired to satisfy the Legislature, and that probably not be enough. The fact that Phillips and Butterworth had admitted party membership and that they and Gundlach had refused to answer the Canwell Committee's questions, made them easy targets.

(Left to right) Professor Ralph Gundlach, attorney John Caughlan, and state Communist Party Secretary Clayton van Lydegraf wait for the regents to rule on Gundlach's case. The regents voted unanimously to fire Gundlach. Photo courtesy of Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, Museum of History and Industry.

Although rumors circulated that some of the regents wanted to fire all six professors, in the end they followed Allen's recommendations. Their judgment was handed down Jan. 22, 1948; Phillips, Butterworth and Gundlach were taken off the University payroll Feb. 1. Eby, Ethel and Jacobs remained, forced to sign an affidavit that they were not members of the Communist Party and placed on probation for two years.

According to Schrecker, Allen wanted to defend the University from outside intervention and was willing to redefine academic freedom to do it. She writes, "If we define academic freedom in institutional instead of ideological terms, as the preservation of the professional autonomy of the academy, then we can understand why so many people believed it was necessary to anticipate outside pressures and get rid of Communist professors before reactionary politicians. . . took over the task." Allen rested his case on the idea that strict adherence to the party line meant surrendering intellectual freedom and that the secrecy of the party was the opposite of open inquiry--thus Communists were disqualified from academic life.

The Aftermath: Banned from Academe
The Apology: "A Dark Day in Our History" Says UW President
Red Alert: Lectures, Exhibits and a Play about the Canwell Hearing

Reader Reaction to "Seeing Red": Was It "Superb" Reporting or "Trash"?

Online Primary Sources of the Canwell Committee Hearings