Document 34: Education in Review

New York Times, 30 January 1949.

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Majority of College Presidents Are Opposed
To Keeping Communists on Their Staffs
By Bengamin Fine

Leading American educators are divided on the issue of whether membership in the Communist party is sufficient grounds for dismissal from a college or university post. The question of academic freedom disturbs many conscientious spokesmen of higher education.

However, a nation-wide sampling of college presidents who were reached by this writer last week disclosed that the majority would not retain an avowed Communist on their campuses. Many educators were cautious in their views, but they did conclude that membership in a totalitarian party made a professor unfit to do an honest job of teaching American youth.

Although there have been scattered incidents of college dismissals in recent months, particularly during the recent Presidential campaign, the issue came to a head several days ago, when the University of Washington ousted three members of its faculty. Here the issue was clear-cut: the professors were charged with being Communists. Two of the three admitted that they were party members, while the third hedged on the question of Communist affiliation.

At the same time the university retained but placed on two-year probation three other faculty members who admitted that they had been members of the Communist Party but had since left the organization.

The university's action immediately became a major topic of conversation in academic circles. Never before has the issue been so clearly defined. In the past, suspected Communists had been discharged, but not for the concrete reason that they were party members. Various other reasons were usually advanced to cover the case. . . .

[An] investigation [of the University of Washington's actions] conducted by the American Association of University Professors will probably have [great] significance. . . . This distinguished body has been the watchdog for academic freedom for many years. While it has no authority to enforce its findings, it does have the extremely important power of moral persuasion.

The association now has before it the findings of the [hearings] that preceded the dismissals. Dr. Raymond B. Allen, president of the university, has been in Washington [D.C.] to confer with officials of the association. His position is set forth in the memorandum analyzing the findings of the trial committee. He said, in part:

"In the American tradition, people have a right to know the real views of its public servants, and these views should be held openly in the tradition of the American town meeting. It seems to me we have come a long way from this rich tradition of our founding fathers if we must tolerate secret membership in a [subversive] political organization by men to whom the community looks for leadership and objective thought in our universities."

Agreement by Others

Many educators agreed last week with Dr. Allen. Typical of this attitude is the unequivocal position taken by President Henry T. Moore of Skidmore College. Dr. Moore asserts that any member of the Communist party is unfit to teach in America and that no man is free to undermine the free institutions which support him.

In a statement which he said represented the viewpoint of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the deans of the university, Dr. Albert C. Jacobs, Provost of Columbia University, declared that academic freedom must be preserved on the nation's campuses. Faculty members, he insisted, should be free to seek and to teach the truth as they see it without dictation.

"Under dictatorship universities are not free," Dr. Jacobs charged. "Moreover, a person who is a member of an organization which adheres to the doctrine that our free institutions are to be destroyed by force if necessary and who is pledged to follow 'the party line,' is neither loyal to our Constitution nor is he free to seek and to teach the truth. To allow the infiltration of such persons into the faculties of Universities would tend to defeat the ends which academic freedom is designed to attain."

"Abuse of Freedom"

President Alan S. Wilson of Hillyer College, Hartford, Conn., says that "we would not knowingly appoint a Communist to the Hillyer faculty." He adds: "We would distrust the nature and scope of his activities and we will not be a party to the abuse of academic freedom for the undermining of democratic freedom."

The same attitude is found in the opinions expressed by many of the college and university heads reached by this writer. It is perhaps typified by the statement from Dr. Clarence R. Decker, president of the University of Kansas City, who says:

"No Communist, Fascist, or any other totalitarian committed to the destruction . . . of the principles and practices of democracy should be permitted to teach in a democracy. Freedom does not imply freedom to destroy freedom." . . .

Taking an opposite stand, Dr. Harold Taylor, president of Sarah Lawrence College, held that as long as the Communist party is constitutional in this country, an avowed Communist has a right to teach in a college or university. However, whether he should continue to do so, Dr. Taylor said, depends upon the integrity of his work."This philosophy applies with equal I force to all teachers, whether Socialists, Republicans, anarchists or Communists," Dr. Taylor declared.

"The dismissal of the three University of Washington professors sets a dangerous precedent. . . . It is a sign of weakness and lack of faith in ourselves if we must resort to dismissals in order to gain protection from dangerous thoughts." 

No Objections to "Radicals"

Despite the overwhelming opposition to avowed Communists, the educators said that they had no objection to the presence of "radicals" or Socialists on their faculty. Many indicated that they would not take any action against former Communists if they had really renounced their former allegiance to the Communist Party.

"Smith College has always welcomed diversity of opinion and has never been frightened by independent thinking on the part of its faculty or students," said Dr. Herbert Pavis, president of Smith [College]. . . .

Basically the nation's educators agree on the issue of academic freedom. They insist that the right of the professor to his own opinions should remain inviolate. They jealously guard the principles of classroom and campus freedom that have evolved through the years. At the same time they are convinced that a line must be drawn at some point beyond which even academic freedom must not go.

The inquiry of the American Association of University Professors will be awaited with considerable interest by educators everywhere.

[The educators would wait a long time. Deeply divided over the issue of whether communists had a right to teach on American colleges, the American Association of University Professors took over seven years to complete its inquiry into the UW dismissals. In 1956 the Association finally issued a report, concluding that Professors Gundlach, Butterworth, and Phillips had been wrongly dismissed. However, the report did not condemn the UW, nor did it call for the rehiring of the discharged professors.]

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