Document 36: An Open Letter

University of Washington Daily, 7 April 1949.

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An Open Letter

We, the undersigned members of the faculty of the University of Washington, in consequence of the recent dismissal by the Board of Regents of some of our colleagues, and the placing of others on probation, make the following statement of our dissent from punitive action based either upon the [beliefs] of the accused or upon their present or past membership in or close association with the Communist Party.

We first wish to make it clear that we reject the Communist Party and that we support every resistance to totalitarianism short of adoption of its methods.

We believe, however, that liberty and tolerance as we have known them in America are the essentials of democracy, and that such terms become meaningless when they are used to indicate only the self-approval of the majority. The test of these safeguards of a free society is their extension to voices of dissent, just as their strength is in the power of truth to overcome error in the open forum.

The Administration of the University has affirmed the adequacy of its conviction that the Communist Party is of such a nature that no member of it can properly be retained on the University faculty. But we believe that until the status of the Communist Party is altered by the [appropriate] branches of government, which are the legislatures and the courts, actions against Communists only give encouragement to the forces of passion and prejudice in our society.

We believe, further, that the dismissals and disciplinary probations violate a principle long established in Anglo-American [law]—that guilt is personal, and does not rise from association as it was alleged to do in the case of the two present members of the Communist Party, whose disloyalty and incompetency were inferred from their affiliation.

We believe, finally, that the action taken has already done serious damage to the University and the cause of education. The reputation of the University as a center of free inquiry and teaching has declined; the esprit de corps [spirit of unity] that gives confidence and character to any institution has deteriorated; and the University of Washington has invited education in general to join it in a retreat from freedom which, if it continues, will weaken the morale which is a democracy's best defense against totalitarian Communism.


[107 members of the University of Washington faculty]

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest