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Copyright 1949 by the editors of THE HARVARD CRIMSON. (Not to be reprinted in any form without the specific permission of THE HARVARD CRIMSON.)
The information which led to the uncovering of the following story was given the CRIMSON by individuals who had heard rumors of the situation at Yale and believed it would make an interesting sequel to the series on academic freedom which the CRIMSON printed last week. The story itself is presented as a case study of what happens to an academic community under the pressure of administrative and governmental fears of Communism.
Yale University is caught in a mystifying web of "cold war" security. So is Harvard. So is M.I.T. So is the country. What makes Yale different is that Yale is scared--scared right out of its civil liberties. The older faculty men, secure in tenure appointments, are just worried. Certain faculties, notably those of the law and medical schools, are not even worried. But the younger faculty members and the graduate students, especially in the physics department are scared stiff. "We're afraid to open our mouths on any idea left of Wilsonian liberalism," one physics instructor says. Other young instructors have admitted that this attitude is wide-spread in the science departments. (Little information is available in other fields in the university; it is well known, however, that although many instructors have Progressive Party sympathies, very few men did any active work for Wallace in the recent election.)
Why is this true at Yale? There are two reasons. The first is the appointment policy followed by the Prudential Committee, the standing committee of the Yale Corporation, in the one case in which the facts are known: no card-carrying or de facto Communists will henceforward be admitted to the Yale faculty. The young graduate students and faculty men put it a different way: "There will be no witch-hunts at Yale (quoted from President Charles Seymour), because there will be no witches." What worries the young men is how far the Prudential Committee intends to go with this policy. So far, they know of only one case where an applicant was suspected of Communism. In this case, the policy was implemented by a secret report, probably based on FBI files. In addition, the report was completely inaccurate.
Is this the method of keeping Communists off the Yale faculty, the young men ask. If so, they might as well forget there ever was such a thing as freedom of speech.
Provost Edgar S. Furniss says that accepting such secret reports is neither Yale University policy nor practice.
Then how does the Committee intend to implement its policy, the young men ask. There is no satisfactory answer to that question. So the young men remain scared.
The second reason is the FBI--not just the eight or so regular New Haven agents, but the many more undercover agents, the liaison men on the faculty, the FBI informants, official, semi-official, and just plain snoopers. Provost Furniss himself says that the known agents are only a minority in the New Haven FBI system. No one agrees on this system's area of investigation. In the physics department alone, some feel that every faculty member and student is under surveillance; others believe that few men except applicants for government positions and men involved in government projects are being checked.
In two definite cases and a third probable case the FBI has gone beyond official FBI policy in influencing Yale academic and political activities. These cases, outlined below, have further increased the nervousness of the young instructors.
Henry Margenau is not a likely man to cross the Federal Bureau of Investigation. True, he has been cleared by the FBI for government work; but things were not always so smooth for the Yale physicist and philosopher.
During the war, he had a brother in the German air force. The FBI did not clear him until after the Nazis had surrendered. Professor Margenau remembers this when he says, "A lot more injustices were done by the FBI in the hot war than are now being done in the cold war."
A few months ago, a young lady called Professor Margenau and asked him to speak to The New Haven Youth Movement. With no knowledge of the group's political complexion, he accepted the invitation.
Not too long after the meeting, an FBI man (one of several who has frequent business in Yale's physics laboratory) stopped in to see Professor Margenau.
What do you mean, speaking to that New Haven Youth Movement, the agent asked. Who invited you?
Professor Margenau remembered the girl's name.
Didn't you know that she's a pink, practically a red, and so is the whole organization? the FBI man asked.
Professor Margenau did not know.
Well, next time you get an invitation from a group you don't know about, you better call us first.
'Advice' Not Policy
Spokesmen for the FBI admit that such gratuitous advice to private citizens is not permitted by FBI policy. They have indicated that any agent caught in such an act would be fired if the facts got back to Washington.
But Professor Margenau was cleared as a trustworthy citizen of the US only four years ago. So now he calls the New Haven FBI office every time he has doubts about a group which has asked him to speak.
The case of Robert S. Cohen is not so clear-cut. Mr. Cohen was cleared by the FBI, Army Intelligence, and Navy Intelligence during the war for work with the Joint Chiefs of Staff communications board.
Always interested in the philosophy of science, Mr. Cohen entered Yale's graduate department of physics after the war. In spring, 1948, he received his Ph.D.
Also in spring, 1948, Mr. Cohen joined the Wallace party. During the summer, he actively campaigned for Henry A. Wallace and other party candidates. His work resulted in appointment to the party's Third Congressional District campaign committee.
After the election, Mr. Cohen dropped out of politics to devote full time to his graduate work in philosophy, mainly under the direction of Professor F. S. C. Northrop.
Then, this spring, Mr. Cohen learned of an opening in the philosophy department. It was an instructorship in Directed Studies, similar to tutorial at Harvard and designed for outstanding freshmen and sophomores.
Under the Yale appointment system, a candidate's application first must be approved by his department. The philosophy department unanimously approved Mr. Cohen's appointment.
Also, since the appointment was in Yale College, it had to be recommended by the college faculty. This vote was also unanimous.
Only one barrier remained, the Prudential Committee. This group has always been considered a "rubber-stamp."
But in Mr. Cohen's case, the Prudential Committee objected. The full story behind the objection will probably never become public knowledge.
This much is known: A man walked into the office of Provost Edgar S. Furniss and volunteered the information that Mr. Cohen was engaged in Communist activities.
The man backed up his statement by naming at least three men who, he said, were Mr. Cohen's active and intimate associates. These three men, the informant claimed, were known Communists.
Defended by Faculty
Provost Furniss and Dean of the College William C. DeVane, both members of the Prudential Committee, have at various times described the informant as "trustworthy", "a person who felt it was his duty to Yale", and a "man trusted by Yale in the past."
From remarks on the part of both Dean DeVane and Provost Furniss, however, it is evident that the informant had some connection with the FBI, or at least with a thoroughly systematized investigatory body.
Once Mr. Cohen suggested that since there were two Robert S. Cohens at Yale, it might all be a mistake. Dean DeVane then told Mr. Cohen that he would check with "the files" and make sure. Since the informant's report had been oral, this additional information could only have been available in the "files" of some home office.
This home office was efficient also. Forty-five minutes later, Dean DeVane had the answer. It was the right Cohen.
Provost Furniss, in a personal interview, at first stressed the fact that the informant had been an individual. But later, he made such remarks as: "So we called them back just to check up."
The Provost also gave further indications that his informant had some connection with the FBI:
"New Haven has a very strong communist cell," he said, "I think the FBI very probably had an underground agent actually in that cell, but all this is just conjecture, you know."
Since many of these "cell" members were also in the Wallace party, Provost Furniss pointed out, an underground agent would know of their association with Mr. Cohen.
The Provost implies that the original information on Mr. Cohen came from this undercover FBI agent.
Thus, the Provost's informant must have had access to this information. And to get information from secret FBI files, the informant must either be in the FBI himself or at least working for the FBI in some capacity.
And Provost Furniss actually knows his informant's name and position.
Several other identities have been suggested for the informant. Dr. John J. Peters, director of the Yale Medical School, suggests that several members of the Yale Corporation, including Robert A. Taft and Dean Acheson, are in positions to obtain FBI secret files.
Mr. Cohen himself, although he subscribes to the FBI theory, admits the possibility of a philosophy man "black balling" him. But such a black-ball would have had to occur after the man had publicly approved him at the philosophy department vote.
On the other hand, if the informant was connected with the FBI, he was acting in direct violation of the bureau's policy. A New Haven FBI spokesman has said, "We are not allowed to open our records either to private individuals or to civilian institutions."
The spokesman also said that he knew of no organization in New Haven besides the FBI which could have made the report on Mr. Cohen.
Shortly after the informant had delivered his oral report, the Prudential Committee informed Professor Brand Blanshard, chairman of the philosophy department, that Mr. Cohen was not to be appointed. This contradicts Provost Furniss' statement that the case was never decided against Mr. Cohen, but merely "held in abeyance." The committee further stated that when a man's rejection was based on communist affiliation, the department involved would have no voice in the matter.
This was in line with Provost Furniss' own inclination: not to admit any known communists to the Yale faculty in any capacity. "Some educators argue that communists should be admitted in certain research and non-controversial fields, but I cannot make that distinction," the Provost says. "If we have Communists on the faculty now, however, we are not going to fire them for their beliefs," he adds.
Professor Blanshard told Mr. Cohen of the Prudential Committee's decision and of the basic charge.
Professor Northrop also soon learned of the charge. After a long talk with Mr. Cohen, he went to the Provost and stated that he definitely believed the charges to be false. Provost Furniss then agreed that the case seemed to demand further investigation and expressed a desire to talk with Mr. Cohen.
Professor Northrop also brought Mr. Cohen's case before a regular meeting of the philosophy department. The department then wrote the Prudential Committee, unanimously reaffirming its faith in Mr. Cohen and protesting the procedure used by the committee as contrary to due process.
The department felt that Mr. Cohen had little chance to clear himself. He knew only that he had been accused of communist activities and of association with known Communists.
Political Life Reported
During the five days of re-investigation which followed, Provost Furniss consistently refused to name Mr. Cohen's alleged Communist associates. To clear himself with the Provost, Mr. Cohen submitted a four-page statement of his political credo. He also felt forced to report to Provost Furniss, down to the most minute details, every political activity he had engaged in over the past four years.
"I would guess that I told the Provost a lot of dirt about me he never even knew," Mr. Cohen said later. "I even told him about the time I was actually approached by an avowed Communist who tried to get me to join the party."
In his oral autobiography, Mr. Cohen did hit upon one name which the Provost admitted had been mentioned in the informant's report. It was John Marsalka, former assistant professor of history at Yale and a Wallsee party candidate for Congress. Mr. Cohen admits having conversations with Mr. Marsalka, but says they disagreed on many political policies.
Dean DeVane was somewhat more helpful. He volunteered the names of two more alleged Communists, with whom Mr. Cohen was accused of association.
Both are still employed by Connecticut educational institutions. Since neither has been successfully proven a Communist, their names are omitted here. Both were active in The People's Party of Connecticut, as was Mr. Cohen.
One of these men, when asked recently if he knew the case of Robert S. Cohen, said that he did not recognize the name. Of the other, Mr. Cohen says, "We never did more than exchange greetings."
The Prudential Committee found their informant's report almost completely false. The committee also found itself beseiged with messages venching for Mr. Cohen--messages from its own philosophy, physics, and English departments, and from professors at Wesleyan University, where Mr. Cohen had been offered a job but had turned it down to try for the Yale position. Victor L. Butterfield, President of Wesleyan, personally telephoned President Seymour of Yale to register his protest.
Five days after Provost Furniss had first met Mr. Cohen, the Prudential Committee reversed its decision. Mr. Cohen received the usual formal statement of appointment two days later in the mail.
Mr. Cohen considers himself a lucky man. He believes that without his strong friends on the faculty, he never would have had a chance. He was willing to forget the whole incident until he was confronted with a number of rumors. Then he let Provost Furniss know immediately that inquiries were being made.
In another case the New Haven FBI system has again definitely violated its own code of ethics. This third case is one of scare tactics, employed not by a regular agent, but by one of the FBI's many liaison men. Provost Furniss told the story to the CRIMSON: Late one night recently, an eminently respectable Yale faculty member, a one-time refugee from Nazi Germany, received a mysterious telephone call.
Why aren't you a naturalized American citizen, asked the voice at the other end of the line.
I am, the professor replied. I was naturalized two years ago.
Oh, said the voice. Well, you had better report it. It isn't on the records.
The voice continued, asking such questions as: How do you like living in this country?
The next day, the professor appeared at Provost Furniss' office, deeply upset by the whole incident.
The Provost called the liaison man into his office and told him to cut it out. Thus, in one case the Fill system was discovered using such scare tactics and stopped. The question remains as to how many similar incidents have never been reported, but just brooded over by the victims.
It is also interesting to note how misinformed this liaison man was on the professor's citizenship. This scope of his misinformation might indeed be compared to that of the man who reported Mr. Cohen was a Communist.
The FBI and University tactics presented above have taken their toll at Yale. Their ramifications have gone far beyond the three scholars immediately affected. Rumors of the methods used have circled and re-circled the Yale campus. And with each circle, they became more and more exaggerated. The first rumor to reach the CRIMSON, in fact read in part. "Reginning this year, Yale officials began the practice of checking their complete appointment lists with the FBI."
In the face of such rumors, it is only surprising that the young graduate students and faculty members at Yale are no more nervous than they seem to be
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