Making History

December 1997 Columns

Fifty years ago, the University of Washington fired three tenured professors because they were Communists (or were alleged to be Communists). Fifty years later, that decision still proves to be controversial.

When this magazine ran "Seeing Red"--a cover story by UW Writer Nancy Wick, '97, on these McCarthy-style hearings and their aftermath--I expected some reaction from our readers. I was not prepared for an onslaught of letters, faxes, e-mails, phone calls and even personal visits as a result of this piece.

At last count, I had received more than 50 responses to "Seeing Red." Many readers were outraged. The article was "trash," a betrayal "to those of us who fought and bled to preserve the liberties of our country," "a real disgrace," a grotesque "redoing of history." One reader maintained that "you find not much bad about Communism" and another sent e-mail that Nancy Wick should be fired.

On the other hand, many readers found the piece a "superb recounting of the events," "an excellent reminder of dark days," "a masterful exposé," "a tribute to Columns' commitment to quality," and "providing all of us some insight to a very complicated story."

One of the main jobs of an editor is to edit--so with only three pages of our print version for "Letters to the Editor," I have had to severely trim the many comments I have received. But thanks to late 20th century technology, readers now have an alternative. For those who want complete versions of all reader comments, they can visit the Letters to the Editor about "Seeing Red" page on this site.

I am not surprised that UW alumni care so much about the history of their alma mater--particularly if they lived through it. I just hope some of that energy can be transferred to caring about the University today. In this issue we look at more contemporary topics: the personal relationships that rise out of faculty and students collaborating on research, the impact of winning the Nobel Prize on the lives of UW alumni and faculty, and a unique medical research project for the elderly. On page eight we have the inaugural column from President Richard L. McCormick, who will share his thoughts with alumni in each issue of Columns.

While some readers may see red over the past, the UW continues to make history today--and alumni need to be part of it.

Tom Griffin

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