Since everybody likes a parade and everybody hates Communism, members of the Massachusetts Legislature have been trying to satisfy the public on both scores. For the last two months, representatives and senators have been trooping before various committees with bills to control subversives.
Latest and most vocal are Representative Paul A. McCarthy and Court Clerk Thomas H. Dorgan who, not content with presenting a bill to outlaw the Communist party in Massachusetts, went gunning on April 2 for "reducators." They produced a bill to "instruct the presidents of the several colleges and schools in the Commonwealth to expel communists or communist sympathizers from their teaching staffs.' It threatens delinquent colleges with the loss of their charters.
Their bill, H. 743, gives no definition of a communist sympathizer, although its sponsors would include anyone with a "leftish tinge." Equally important, it does not discriminate between what a teacher believes and what he teaches.
After many questions from Representative Richard L. Hull, a member of the Education Committee who was trying to find out whether Dorgan had evidence that Communism is being taught in classrooms, Dorgan stated that teachers' beliefs are just as important to him as their lectures. With this attitude behind it, H. 743 represents nothing more or less than thought control; it is simply an attempt to get at the people whom extremists like McCarthy and Dorgan consider subversive.
H. 743 could put college and school administrations in an impossible position. It might intimidate administrators into firing large numbers of capable instructors for fear that someone like a disgruntled graduate or a rabid politician would complain to the attorney general and set off a highly publicized investigation. College and school presidents would probably play it safe and academic freedom would become in fact what Dorgan called it on April 2, "a hackneyed phrase."
These dangers are all that H. 743 has to offer. Anything constructive in it has long since been achieved in such laws as the 1940 Smith Act and the 1935 Teachers Oath Act. Even though these laws have not brought in all those "subversives" that Dorgan finds under every ivy leaf, they take care of anyone who advocates the violent overthrow of the government.
The Committee on Education, which held a calm and intelligent hearing on H. 743, (a remarkable feat considering the topic), can hardly miss these drawbacks. Although it cannot pigeonhole H. 743, the Committee could do much to cut short the legislature's unwholesome parade by reporting this McCarthy-Dorgan bill unfavorably.