Document 29: Everett J. Nelson Testimony

University of Washington Tenure and Academic Freedom Committee, Hearings, vol. 16, pp. 1616-44.

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CHAIRMAN GOSE: The hearing will come to order. You may proceed, Mr. Caughlan.

MR. CAUGHLAN [Attorney for Professor Herbert Phillips]: I will call Professor Nelson.

called as a witness on behalf of the [defendant] Dr. Herbert Phillips,
was examined and testified as follows:

... MR. CAUGHLAN: What is your present position?

PROFESSOR NELSON: I am Professor of Philosophy and the Executive Officer of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Washington....

MR. CAUGHLAN: How long have you been acquainted with Mr. Phillips?

PROFESSOR NELSON: Since the autumn of 1930.

MR. CAUGHLAN: What was the occasion of your meeting him?

PROFESSOR NELSON: He became a [teacher] in the Department of Philosophy at the same time that I did....

MR. CAUGHLAN: You, of course, have been well acquainted with Mr. Phillips since that time?

PROFESSOR NELSON: Indeed I have....

MR. CAUGHLAN: What is ... Mr. Phillips' reputation as a philosopher and as a teacher ... ?

PROFESSOR NELSON: He has a very high reputation as a very fine teacher and most competent, not only as a teacher of philosophy and a student of philosophy, but as a philosopher.

MR. CAUGHLAN: Have you received specific expressions of opinions from others in the field in regard to his reputation?

PROFESSOR NELSON: Yes. Would you like me to tell you about them?


PROFESSOR NELSON: In a letter that I received last October, ... Professor Morris Weitz, a [teacher at the University of Washington] during the years 1944 and 1945, and now at Vassar, spoke of Phillips as one of the few real philosophers either of us have ever known.

And I have just received a letter from Professor Aiken [of Harvard].

... Professor Aiken said, ... "I believe it is no secret that of all the men at [the University of] Washington, my special respect was reserved for Professor Herbert Phillips. He has always seemed to me a man of exemplary courage and unselfishness. Throughout my stay in Seattle, I saw "Scoop" [Professor Phillips's nickname] constantly, and found him to have a mind of the highest caliber and a human spirit I could only wish to [imitate]. I did not and do not agree with him on many points. That is irrelevant. But I have no doubt whatsoever that in Professor Phillips, your department has a thinker devoted to the highest standards of intellectual rigor and clarity...."

MR. CAUGHLAN: Would you say, in summarizing the general reputation of Mr. Phillips, that [other philosophy professors feel the same way] as Professor Aiken?

PROFESSOR NELSON: To the best of my knowledge, that is the case. When we have had visiting professors, Professor Schneider had the same opinion and was so impressed with Professor Phillips that he made arrangements for [Phillips to teach] at Columbia for a year.... [Professor Nelson gave several other examples of Phillips's good reputation.]

MR. CAUGHLAN: Have you any opinion as to the general views held by students in philosophy with respect to Mr. Phillips as a teacher?

PROFESSOR NELSON: Mr. Phillips has always been considered as a very good teacher in our department. I have letters from students expressing the opinion that he is an excellent teacher and an excellent philosopher.... As a matter of fact, if there is anyone in the department who has stimulated the thinking of students, that has been Professor Phillips. I am sure that he has done it more than the rest of us. In fact, students go to him for consultation and discussion of ideas more, I believe, than they do to anyone else in the department....

MR. CAUGHLAN: Have you been able to make an evaluation of Mr. Phillips as to the objectivity, in general, of his presentation of the problems of philosophy?

PROFESSOR NELSON: I believe that he has been thoroughly objective. I do not think that he has ever indoctrinated anyone with any ideas. He has presented various theories, but always as propositions for examination. As he says to his classes, he presents ideas as hypotheses to be analyzed, seeing how far they will go, to reject them if they do not meet with the facts or let them be confirmed if they do, which is a thoroughly scientific method.

I do not think that anybody could be more objective than Professor Phillips is. In fact, I have heard reports of his leaning over backward and warning people, "Now, this is what I believe." So I do not think that there is any question as to his objectivity.

MR. CAUGHLAN: Have you been aware that Mr. Phillips adheres to Marxism and Leninism?

PROFESSOR NELSON: Yes, I have known for years that he believes in socialistic economic ideas.... We have discussed the problem for years. During the Depression there was constant discussion of economic problems, and Phillips took, I suppose, this Marxist view—anyway it was a socialist view....

MR. CAUGHLAN: Has Mr. Phillips ever [told] you prior to the recent Canwell hearings that he is a member of the Communist Party?


MR. CAUGHLAN: Isn't it somewhat strange that in all the time you have known him ... that he has not made such a declaration to you?

PROFESSOR NELSON: Well, it might seem strange. There are several reasons for that. One reason is due to the fact ... that I learned a lesson from Professor Savery [the head of the Philosophy Department before Professor Nelson]. He made it quite clear to us in a department meeting that he didn't want to know anything about our political affiliations, and I felt that was the height of wisdom, and I have followed that policy. I have tried not to know. Now, I do not think it is my business as ... the Executive Officer of a department to inquire into the political affiliations of the members of my department....

I have sometimes [wondered if Phillips] is a member of the Communist Party. And I have sometimes said, "Now, I do not want to know what your membership is." And, very frankly, one reason I do not want to know such things is because I do not want to be put in a spot that people will be put in by having a certain kind of knowledge.

It is knowledge that would not help me; it is knowledge by a kind of gossip; and I do not think that it is the kind of knowledge that one should seek.

I have cautioned ... Phillips: "I do not want to know what your affiliation is. It is the ideas that are important."

MR. CAUGHLAN: In connection with the ideas that are discussed or presented, is it necessary, as part of the presentation of philosophy in a University, to present and discuss the philosophy of Marxism ... ?

PROFESSOR NELSON: Well, I would say that in any courses which deal with social problems [or] social ideals ... that the Marxist hypothesis should be presented....

MR. CAUGHLAN: What is your attitude, Professor Nelson, as to having a Marxist teacher in your department?

PROFESSOR NELSON: I have no objection whatsoever. As a matter of fact, ... I think that in a Philosophy Department as many different points of views should be represented as possible.... I think any respectable point of view should be presented and, if possible, presented by people who know what they are talking about. And if you do not mind, ... I have picked up my old copy of [John Stuart] Mill's Essay on Liberty, and it expresses my point of view better than I can I do.... "He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little.... If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for [all] we know, be true. To assume otherwise is to assume our own infallibility.... If the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of the truth. Since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of [different] opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being [found].... Even if the [general and popular] opinion be the whole truth, unless it is ... vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who [believe it], be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds." ...

MR. CAUGHLAN: [Does] Mr. Phillips ... present his subject matter, including Marxism, [by] discussing the strengths and weaknesses of ... all positions in an analytical manner?

PROFESSOR NELSON: Yes, I think [he does]. I certainly know that in ... his courses ... he presents arguments against the Marxist position....

MR. CAUGHLAN: Have you been in a position to form an opinion as to [Professor Phillips's] character?

PROFESSOR NELSON: Well, yes. I can say that throughout all of these years I have never seen [any] evidence that he did not have the highest type of integrity. In departmental matters, or in social matters too, ... I have never found him concealing or telling anything that is not the truth. I have never found any reason to question his complete honesty and integrity....

MR. CAUGHLAN: [Would you say that Professor Phillips] is willing to search for the truth wherever it led?


MR. CAUGHLAN: Now, in general, I would like to ask you whether, as head of the department, there has ever been anything in his conduct as a teacher or a philosopher which would lead you to conclude that he was in any way incompetent?

PROFESSOR NELSON: No, nothing whatsoever.

MR. CAUGHLAN: Has he been neglectful of his duties?

PROFESSOR NELSON: No, has not been neglectful of his duties. In fact, I have often felt over the years that he has devoted more of his time to the students than the rest of us have.

MR. CAUGHLAN: Has he ever in any way ... been dishonest or immoral, that you have observed?

PROFESSOR NELSON: No, I have just said that I have never had the slightest evidence or indication of any such thing....

[After a recess, Mr. Caughlan asked Professor Nelson a few more questions.]

MR. CAUGHLAN: From your own experience and acquaintance with Mr. Phillips, ... do you have an opinion as to whether [he] believes that the Communist Party advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States by violence?

PROFESSOR NELSON: As a matter of fact, I am positive that he believes that it does not advocate that, and I am also positive that he does not advocate that. In fact, he is very much opposed to any such position. And I can supply you a quotation on that, if you wish, from the University Daily [the campus newspaper] from last May or June....

MR. CAUGHLAN: You are satisfied that [is] an honest representation of his position?

PROFESSOR NELSON: Yes, absolutely.

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