'Radical' Students Face Pressures on Campus
Copyright 1949 by the Editors of THE HARVARD CRIMSON
This is the third and last article in a series surveying the condition of academic freedom in American universities. In the two preceding articles we reported on pressures exerted on faculty members because of their political beliefs; on attempts of state legislatures to supervise education; and on cases where college administrations have denied outside speakers the opportunity to address campus meetings.
Today's article will deal with Instances where students or student groups have charged they have been subjected to pressure because of their political opinions or activities. Two other cases which do not fall into these categories appear on page five.
For the past three months, the position of the president of Queens College, New York, has been the subject of bitter debate. On one side have been New York Mayor William O'Dwyer and Democratic political leaders in the Queens.
On the other side have ranged such varied groups as the Queens College Young Progressives, the Public Education Association, the Teacher's Union, and the United Parents Association.
Each side had its candidate. Margaret Kiely, a dean at Queens, was backed by O'Dwyer's group. Bryn Hovde, president of the New School for Social Research, was supported by the second group. Neither candidate was finally picked; John J. Theobald, a City College dean, was named president instead by the Board of Higher Education on May 16.
In the presidential controversy, Queens Democrats were attempting to gain some measure of control over the borough college, which they felt had to be responsible to the "desires of the taxpayers."
Their efforts have not been concerned with the college presidency alone. Led by Queens Democratic boss James A. Roe, they have aimed for the past two years at the expulsion of what they consider "radical elements" in the student body and the faculty.
In their "anti-radicalism" campaign, Queens Democrats received aid from Long Island newspapers, local Republicans, New York City councilmen, three veterans' groups, and J. Parnell Thomas, then chairman of the House un-American Activities Committee.
During most of 1947, these forces fought the Queens chapter of the American Youth for Democracy. When it appeared that a sizeable portion of the college faculty and student body was not also against the A.Y.D., the Roe faction demanded the investigation of the entire college and the resignation of top officials.
On February 14, 1947, the college student council voted to revoke the A.Y.D.'s charter. This was in agreement with the principles of college president Paul Klapper, who had long said he wanted all partisan political groups banned, including the A.Y.D.
Final decision, however, was left up to the faculty, which was called to a meeting by President Klapper two days later. One of the A.Y.D.'s most virulent critics, City Councilman Hugh Quinn, attempted to gain entrance to this session.
When Klapper informed Quinn that faculty meetings were closed to outsiders, the Councilman said, "If I am barred, it is only for one reason--they are hiding something." The president then asked the faculty if Quinn could be allowed in; the vote was unanimously in the negative.
"So, it's a star-chamber session!" Quinn exclaimed, adding, "that's not the American way. Dr. Klapper. You must remember Queens College is a public institution, supported by taxpayers' money, and what the faculty does is everybody's business."
Before he left, Quinn also remarked that "faculty meetings should be open to the press so that the newspapers may report accurately and fully what goes on here."
After the councilman had retired, the faculty took its vote. It was 55 to 42 to uphold the student council and end the A.Y.D. Klapper commented: "The A.Y.D. has been put off the campus and we intend to keep it off. The faculty has done the right thing in banning this organization."
The Long Island Star-Journal, which had repeatedly attacked the Youth for Democracy. Commented editorially that while "Quinn's sentiments against the A.Y.D. are those of the people of Queens, newspapermen outside the meeting felt that some of the 42 votes for the A.Y.D. were, in truth, votes against Quinn and his conduct, which the professors regarded as a threat to academic freedom."
Nevertheless, the faculty decision was applauded by the Star-Journal. "Communism and its propagandists have no place in such an institution," said the editorial, concluding that "President Paul Klapper has made if clear that he will continue to stand guard against possible invasion of the campus by the reds."
The 42 dissenting teachers on the Queens faculty were soon the object of much attention. On May 3, James A. Roe and Frank Kenna, respectively the local Democratic and Republican leaders, asked an investigation of the faculty.
Congressman J. Parnell Thomas told the New York Board of Higher Education that if it didn't conduct an inquiry into Queens College, his un-American Activities Committee would. He had been asked by Congressman Henry J. Latham to investigate the college.
On May 6. Latham also asked the Board of Higher Education to take action. At the same time. City Councilman L. Gary Clemente announced that he would seek $100,000 to investigate "subversive activities" among city employees including teachers.
Resistance to this movement quickly took shape. President Klapper refused to reveal the names of the 42 teachers. Students and faculty members signed protests against the men who had demanded a Queens inquiry.
The episode had its effect on Queens. Harold Lenz dean of students, declared that there was "a state of hysteria" on the campus, and that some outsiders had begun to clamor for the banning of two more student groups, the Young Progressive Citizens of America and the Students for Democratic Action.
The storm blew over for the time being. In October, however, it sprang up again. Henry E. Schultz, a Queens member of the Board of Higher Education, proposed an amendment to the Board's by-laws that would bar "subversive" groups from all city college campuses.
Eighteen out of 20 college administrators and faculty representatives testified against it. Lenz, student dean at Queens, opposed the amendment strongly.
"As one who would have to administer it," he said, "I must state unequivocally that this amendment will be of no use to me. It offers an opportunity for unscrupulous use. I could almost use it to disenfranchise any group I wanted. The lack of definition as to what is subversive makes this amendment dangerous."
For his statement, Lenz was harshly attacked. A news story in the Long Island Star-Journal, bearing the headline, "DEAN DEFENDS CAMPUS REDS," led off with: "Harold Lenz of Flushing, dean of students at Queens College, came to the aid of campus Communists and their stooges at a day-long hearing before the Board of Education yesterday ..."
Roe versus Lenz
James Roe, the Democratic leader who had requested Lenz's resignation back in May, asked for it again. Roe said that Lenz should resign "immediately because his action (in opposing the Schultz amendment) has proved him to be utterly unfit to serve as dean at Queens College any longer."
He added, "All un-American groups and the professors who tolerate them must go. Queens is an American, God-fearing community and those that don't see eye to eye with us have no place in our midst. We want our students taught 'Queens style' or not at all."
Republican Councilman Clemente also demanded the dean's resignation, but in spite of this bi-partisan attack, Lenz did not resign. The Schultz amendment, the cause of the dispute, was finally defeated on November 20.
Shortly after this, the A.Y.D. case was reopened. Under the college rules, the group had the right to apply again for a charter in September. The new student council was favorable to it, and there were indications that the A.Y.D. would have been rechartered if the decision had been entirely in student hands.
Kiely versus A.Y.D.
On November 30, however, Dean Margaret Kiely, acting as president in the absence of Klapper, declared her opposition to giving A.Y.D. another charter. Four days afterwards, the faculty voted 67 to 40 to reaffirm its ban on the organization.
Announcing the vote, Dean Kiely stated: "Because American Youth for Democracy is in conflict with the best interests of the college, the faculty moves that it be banned from the campus." The student council registered disapproval of this decision; but the decision stuck.
In April, 1948, President Klapper resigned, and the scene was set for the latest--and biggest--campus at Queens College. The Board of Higher Education chose a five member nominating committee under the chairmanship of Henry Schultz to propose Klapper's successor. In the meantime, Dean Kiely continued to set in Klapper's place.
The search for a president was a long one, but by February, 1949, the Schultz committee had brought at least two candidates up for the Board's consideration. One was Dean Kiely; the other was Bryn Hovde, president of the New School for Social Research. Hovde, it was understood, had the inside track.
James Roe and other Queens Democrats preferred Dean Kiely. When they heard that Hovde was the "anticipated" selection, they went to New York Mayor William O'Dwyer and complained that the Board was ignoring the "wishes" of their borough's residents.
On February 17, O'Dwyer called the Board together and rebuked them for this reason. He was at once sharply criticized for "attempting to interfere" in the business of the Board. Newspapers, organizations, and private citizens claimed that he was bowing to political pressure, with an eye to the next mayoralty campaign.
Roe defended the Mayor against this criticism. "The Queens taxpayers provided the funds that created the college and they now foot the bills. Their children make up the student body. Certainly they should have everything to say in the selection of their college president and the type of philosophy that is taught their children. This is not Russia; this is America and the rights of the citizens must prevail."
Student Groups Protest
Student groups at Queens issued jointly a leaflet which stated, "We want public officials and professional politicians to refrain from putting political pressure on our campus...."
The Young Progressives of America also issued a leaflet. Because it charged that O'Dwyer had "cow-towed" to "elements of the N.Y.C. Catholic Hierarchy, the Catholic War Veterans, and the notorious pro-Coughlin paper, 'The Tablet'," this leaflet aroused much interest on the campus.
The Young Democrats whipped out a counter-leaflet which said: "This was never a religious issue until the Communists and Y.P.A. made it such. The issue on our campus is that Y.P.A., the Communist Party, and their allies are the ones who are really trying to dictate to the Board of Higher Education."
The two groups then fought it out with leaf lets for a few days until the Faculty Committee on Student Affairs suspended the Y.P.A. for a six-week period for a violation of the rules. The Committee said that the Y.P.A. failed to obtain the necessary approval by Dean Lenz of its initial leaflet.
The Y.P.A. however, claimed that the dean had okayed the leaflet. He agreed that he had seen the leaflet, but denied approving it. A week later, the Faculty, Committee lifted the suspension.
At the same time, on March 10, Mayer O'Dwyer issued a statement that he had no desire to influence the Board of Higher Education's selection of a president. After this the political flames died down.
On March 29, Hovde withdrew his esadidaey. He said he had remained in the right up to then as a matter of principle, but was new retiring because he had been the "center of too much public controversy."
The Board finally picked a Queens president on May 16. He was John J. Theobald, dean of administration at New York City College.
Queens College has its president. Whether or not Theobski's will experience ponewed conflict between "radical" student groups and public figures like James Roe and Connihasn Quinn is a question for the future.