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Justifies Communist Teachers

The Mail


To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

I read in the CRIMSON today an account of a speech made by President Conant. I see that he has decided that card carrying Communists should be forbidden to teach in "schools," and by this I assume he means colleges and universities as well as public schools. His argument, no doubt, is that by the nature of their affiliation, members of the Communist Party are intellectually dishonest people: that is, they pattern their statements, not after the facts as they see and interpret them, but after a party line the formation of which they do not influence, and the content of which is contradictory and in many instances consciously false.

Such an argument would be more than adequate if the sole purpose of a University were to place at the disposal of the students material of varied sorts, presented by a group of intellectually forthright and honest experts whose job it was to interpret and teach this material. This, however, is not the sole purpose of a university, although in recent years it has come to seem so.

Rather, the primary purpose of a university is to provide an open forum, in which ideas of any stripe, no matter how odd or distasteful, may receive their full hearing. The reason for this forum can readily be found in John Stuart Mill's treatise "On Liberty," and it would perhaps be well if President Conant went back to that important but little read work and perused it once more. For here we have the best possible argument for a free market of ideas. This freedom, says Mill, is not a reward bestowed on those who follow the popular line of thought. It is not a privilege, to be awarded or taken away at will. It is a means, a method, whereby we can best reach truth about the ways of man and the universe. We cannot be certain of any fact or belief that we hold to be true, says Mill, and we must therefore constantly allow those who disagree to have their say. Further, he argues, it is not sufficient to present an opponent's argument for him. You must allow him to present it in all its force and appeal, for only by this free and unhampered contest of ideas will we ever be able to choose the true and discard the false.

Now this doctrine, which is more fundamental to our way of life than the Capitalism or Federalism with which 'America' is commonly associated, is, in turn, founded on the belief that a society, confronted by a variety of conflicting views, will in the long run choose that one, or combination of them, which is closest to the truth. It is becoming increasingly evident that this belief has all but died, and that a new belief, in truth by indoctrination, has taken its place. The argument has ceased to be--"Will a Communist teacher, teaching communism, contribute to the knowledge of the community?" and has become--"Will a Communist teacher openly teach communism?" If the answer to the latter question in "no," if we can count on a Communist dishonestly teaching a doctrine he does not believe, then it seems he is to be accepted, while if the answer is "yes," if this Communist teacher will openly teach and advocate communism, then it appears we are to fire him, and restrict our contact with this dread doctrine to the rather outmoded and frenetic Communist Manifesto.

I thus defend the right, the need, of the Communist teacher to teach in this and other universities, not on the ground that it is his natural or inalienable right to do so, but on the ground that he may have some truth, or near truth, to offer which can not be had elsewhere, and if Dr. Conant will say, before having heard the Communist, that he does not, cannot, have some truth to offer, then I say that he has forfeited his role as protector of free thought and expression in the university and should yield to a men who will defend these basic freedoms. Robert Wolff '54

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