UW Today

This is an archived article.

January 2, 1998

University of Washington marks 50th anniversary of anti-Communist investigations with

In 1948, the University of Washington fired three tenured professors for alleged Communist sympathies. It was a controversial action in a time full of such actions. McCarthy, the blacklist, loyalty oaths-most Americans have heard of post-war anti-Commun ist fervor, though it is hard for those who didn’t live through it to understand what happened and why.

To address some of those questions, the University will mark the 50th anniversary of the firings this winter with a series of events called the “All Powers Project.” An interdisciplinary effort involving speeches, panel discussions and even a dramatic recreation of legislative hearings on the subject, the project’s events are open to the public. The University Libraries has created a website listing All Powers Project events and a reading list. The URL is: http://www.lib.washington.edu/exhibits/AllPowers

What happened in 1948 was precipitated by the creation of the state’s Joint Legislative Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities. Popular ly called the Canwell Committee after its chairman, Rep. Albert Canwell, R-Spokane, the panel was given “all powers necessary and convenient” to “investigate the activities of groups and organizations whose membership includes persons who are Communists, or any other organization known or suspected to be dominated or controlled by a foreign power.”

The committee conducted two sets of hearings-one on the Washington Pension Union and the other on the University of Washington, which it believed harbored ma ny Communists on the faculty. Eleven professors testified during the hearings. Some admitted they had belonged to the Communist Party and named others they had known in it; some admitted past membership but refused to name others, and three refused to s ay whether or not they were or ever had been members.

After the legislative hearings, the University held its own hearings-before the Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom of the Faculty Senate. Six men were charged: Herbert Phillips, Joseph Butter worth and Ralph Gundlach, who had refused to answer the committee’s questions about their activities; and Harold Eby, Garland Ethel and Melville Jacobs, who admitted past membership in the Communist Party but who had refused to name others.

The committe e recommended that only Gundlach be fired, but they were overruled by President Raymond Allen, who recommended to the regents that Phillips and Butterworth also be terminated. The regents decided to fire all three men. Eby, Ethel and Jacobs were allowed to remain, but were put on probation for two years and forced to sign a loyalty oath.

The aftermath of the hearings was significant, both for the individuals involved and for the campus. Phillips, Butterworth and Gundlach never worked in academia agai n. Gundlach, a psychology professor, managed to find a new career as a clinical psychologist, but Phillips, a philosophy professor, was forced to become a laborer and Butterworth, a teacher of Chaucer and Old English, went on public assistance.

As for the University, it turned down both literary critic Kenneth Burke and physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer for Walker-Ames professorships for their alleged support of communist “front” organizations, and in turn found itself rejected as the site of several pla nned professional conferences. According to the late University historian Charles Gates, “a number of departments on the campus had occasion to discover during the ensuing years the doubtful esteem in which the University of Washington was held at other institutions.”

Washington State was among the first in the nation to create a legislative committee on un-American activities and the UW was one of the first schools to be a target of such an investigation. Moreover, according to one historian, the Uni versity’s decision to the fire the three professors set a precedent that allowed other schools to declare Communists unfit to teach. Ellen Schrecker, author of No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities, says this: “The University of Washington ca se had cleared the way. Once the anti-Communist consensus and the machinery for enforcing it was in place, it was to become all too easy for academic institutions to turn against other types of political undesirables.”

Schrecker is among those who will speak as part of the All Powers Project. A complete schedule of events is attached.

Fact Sheet: The All Powers Project

The University of Washington is planning a multi-faceted project commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Canwell Committee hearings. The committee, active in the late 1940s, investigated and exposed alleged communist activity in local institutions, inc luding the UW, labor unions and the arts. In the name of patriotism, public safety, and national security, individual rights were suspended, causing untold damage to many lives and careers. The purpose of the project is to re-examine these events in a v ariety of public forums in order to understand them and explore their relevance to our time.

December, 1997: University Libraries Website listing All Powers Project events and a reading list; site also will contain a preview of the Libraries’ exhibit. URL is: http://www.lib.washington.edu/exhibits/AllPowers

Mid-December, 1997: Pacific Northwest Quarterly, a scholarly journal for historians, devotes its entire issue to the subject of McCarthyism in the Pacific Northwest. Single issues are $6, available from PNQ, 4045 Brooklyn Ave. NE, Seattle 98105-6261, ph one: 206-543-2992.

January, 1998: University of Washington Press reissues False Witness by Melvin Rader, a first-person account of the Canwell era. The book contains a new afterword by Len Schroeter, civil libertarian, friend of Rader and a member of the steering committe e of the All Powers Project.

January, 1998: “Yours, in Dread of the Hot Seat: Anti-Communist Investigations in Seattle, 1947-1949,” a University Libraries exhibit of historical materials from the Canwell Era investigations, balcony of Allen Library (continues through Winter Quarter)

Late January, 1998: Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest will have curriculum packets and study guides on “McCarthyism and the Cold War in Washington,” intended primarily for teachers in grades 8-12. For more information contact the Center at 2 06-543-8656 or cspn@u.washington.edu, or the Center’s website: http://www.washington.edu/uwired/outreach/cspn/

Thursday, Jan. 22, 1998: Reading from All Powers Necessary and Convenient, Center for the Book, Seattle Public Library Downtown, noon.

Thursday, Jan. 22, 1998: “Academic Freedom and the University of Washington: Beyond the Canwell Committee” by Robert O’Neil (Professor of Law, University of Virginia and founding director of The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Express ion), 3:30 p.m., 109/129 Condon, sponsored by the School of Law (Condon-Falknor Lecture). The lecture will deal with the Bullitt loyalty oath case of the 1960s and the academic freedom implications of the DeFunis case challenging the law school’s admissi ons policies.

Friday, Jan. 23, 1998: Panel on Academic Freedom and Tenure, moderated by UW President Richard L. McCormick, 1:30 -3:30 p.m., Kane 110.

Friday, Jan. 23, 1998: “The Cultural Context of McCarthyism,” lecture and book signing by Richard M. Fried (professor of history, University of Illinois-Chicago, and author of Nightmare in Red and Men Against McCarthy). 7:30 p.m., Allen Library lobby. Sponsored by UW libraries. Reservations required: 206-616-3481.

Saturday, Jan. 24, 1998: “McCarthyism Goes to College: Anticommunism and American Higher Education,” lecture by Ellen Schrecker (professor, Yeshiva University and author of No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities) 9-10:30 a.m., 301 Gowen Hall. Co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, Departmen