During the past three days this newspaper has published a series of reports on academic freedom. The reports are condensations from a mass of material--condensations necessitated by the sheer weight of information on the cases investigated. The cases do not run to pattern. Just what conclusions, if any, can be drawn from the cases as a group?
The CRIMSON articles have dealt only with the explicit and charged violations of academic freedom. The survey has not mentioned the hundreds of colleges and universities where such violations have been non-existent or of a normally petty nature. The strength of the opposition in even the most flagrant cases also shows that the condition of academic freedom is far from despairing. Yet the current problems of academic freedom are serious, as the evidence compiled in the survey does show, and they exist in a frame of reference that is world-wide: the challenge of Communism and, along with it, the "Red Scare."
Some have tried to evade the issue by pointing out that the 1920 Scare died down in due time. This argument cannot be reasonably advanced now. Academic freedom was not so seriously endangered in the earlier period--for although the Russian revolution had scared a lot of people, there was little legislative pressure on universities. This time there are loyalty oaths, state investigations, and a concerted push against teachers whose personal views do not jibe with those of the investigators. Again, in 1920 the fledgling Russian nation was weak; now, the strength of the Soviet system and the tension current in international relations present us with a sustained crisis that may last at least a decade.
The methods and the reasoning of the attacks on Communism in this country, and especially on teaching, have been both crude and subtle. The crude approach, as exemplified by such groups as the Barnes Bill partisans, attempts to legislate Communist teachers out of existence. Yet rarely in attempts of this sort have Communists been the real losers; the real injury caused by these shotgun tactics has been to liberals and other non-Communists. The subtle method argues that no man who follows a dictatorial dogma and strict party organization is capable of objective teaching. Yet the difficulties of defining an ideology and of accurately labeling the card-holding teacher most of whom would certainly go underground would make the end result of such attempted definition by college authorities and legislators as misdirected as the crude attempts at outlawing.
However, not only is the end product of the subtle argument dangerous; its internal reasoning is vulnerable. First, some professors are of sufficient value to the party as "names" so that they are allowed to retain a considerable measure of intellectual freedom. Second, many Marxist teachers deviate from the party line as much as Democrats or Republicans do in their thinking. Finally, there is considerable value to be gained from an objective presentation by these men of an ideology which is now in competition with our own. At least they may bring up for re-examination some of the accepted values of the capitalist system. But any teacher, who adliores so closely for an all excluding dogma, Communism or any other, that his instruction cannot be honest is incompetent and should not teach. It is on this definition of competence, and not of party allegiance, that a man's right to teach must rest. It is a basic American concept that individuals cannot be categorized, that they must be judged on personal performance and merit. This applies to teachers as it does to all others.
Speakers Also Restricted
Both the crude and subtle methods of attack have been used to keep speakers off university platforms. The crude approach keeps Communists out by labeling them as radical and therefore undesirable. This device is also used to handle all shades of liberals and left-wing people. The subtle approach is employed by universities to bar men under indictment or on trial from speaking--in spite of-the fact that men in these categories are still innocent in the eyes of the law. Furthermore, men actually convicted in the civil rights cases mentioned in the survey should not be considered criminal influences, since their convictions rest on personal principle, on the belief that it is their own rights that have been violated, and since their offense was contempt of a congressional committee which is in itself not a court of law. The same standards that apply to speakers under judicial consideration should apply to teachers.
No university should attempt to govern the off-campus activities of students. On campus, students must be permitted to organize whatever political groups they choose, so long as they do not violate state or federal laws.
Finally, there are already sufficient laws to insure the safety of the country from sedition. Such measures as loyalty oaths, now standing in 30 states, are not only unnecessary but often impose a peculiarly restrictive definition of "Loyalty."
One of the serious dangers in the "anti-Communist crusade" is its potential effect on teaching. This cannot be measured in dismissals alone, for the young men blackballed by college administrations under pressure will be the greatest loss to education. There may also be teachers in all ranks who will choose to leave their universities, if not teaching itself, because of injustices done those of their colleagues attacked or dismissed.
There is only one way to assure a solution of the problem. University administrators, from assistant deans and department chairmen up through university presidents, must be prepared to show the greatest integrity and personal courage to protect the freedom of their teachers. President James Phinney Baxter of Williams is exemplary among current administrators: he has withstood extreme alumni pressure in protecting a teacher's right at the height of a crucial drive for endowment--the weakest spot of a private school today.
Beyond the devotion of presidents and deans lies a greater duty. A university must sift new ideas and new theories. It must always, therefore, be radical in the eyes of some. The ideas may turn out to be faulty; but this must not be made a basis for preventing their full investigation. A university can afford to remove itself from our social fabric to protect those who search in any manner for the truth in any form. It must do so to justify its existence, for a school which lacks freedom to inquire into the nature of truth does not deserve the title of university.