Toward Academic Freedom

The attack against academic freedom has diminished. This past year saw fewer firings or suspensions of teachers for left-wing, supposedly subversive, or "uncooperative" activities than any similar period since the assault upon unorthodox educators began in about 1949. Congress seemed more interested in the contacts of the Secretary of the Air Force than in those of college professors, and conducted its investigations accordingly.

This is highly salutary, but what does it mean for those interested in preserving the integrity of the educational institutions and the freedom of the academic mind? Have America's anti-intellectual powers given up, retreated, or lost interest? Or are they simply biding their time? Upon the answer to this question depends the reasonable course for those seeking to preserve education against these attacks.

Basically, it appears that a loss of interest is responsible for the decrease in attacks upon education. An apparently improved climate of international relations and perhaps, in some quarters, an annoyance with the senselessness and fury of the assaults against academic freedom seem to be the chief contributing factors.

Yet there seems little reason to believe that the thought police have given up, for there have been few, if any, concessions from university administrations or state legislatures which had set themselves up as the proper tribunals to judge professors' thoughts. They have not voluntarily withdrawn, although in some cases the courts have curtailed their era of operation. The court-denied areas, however, constitute practically the sum total of their withdrawal.

Still more incredibility is cast upon the retreat thesis by the angry reaction from many quarters to the American Association of University Professors recent statement of principles. The Association urged for academic due process and said that Communist Party membership or invocation of the Fifth Amendment was not sufficient ground for dismissal without an investigation and consideration of any mitigating circumstances and the individual's own record. The press indignantly demanded a blanket rule approach, however, ignoring these more human considerations by saying that the Party is a proven conspiracy and therefore all membership in it is conspiratorial.

Present membership in the Communist Party casts extremely serious doubt on the usefulness of a professor, to be sure, but democratic procedure requires an individual consideration of the case and a presumption of innocence for each person accused or suspected. And the validity of Fifth Amendment firings was solidly checked by the Supreme Court's ruling in the Slochower case (see page seven).

But the program for the defense of academic freedom now seems clearer than at any time in the recent past. No longer need attention focus so exclusively on court cases, although cases still in progress must be fought vigorously and new victims defended. But now, while there is a lull, for whatever reason, in the attack on academic freedom, major attention should be turned to securing the repeal and withdrawal of restrictive statutes and regulations, the cloak of due process under which the attackers of academic freedom operate. The best way to achieve this would seem to be for liberals to develop and state clearly the meanings and implications of "academic freedom," in the hope that a wider understanding will develop, capable of withstanding any resurgence of these malignant attacks and attackers.