Last year was a busy one for Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, but he found the time, besides his many other activities, to raise serious questions concerning the proper administration of the United States Educational Exchange Awards, popularly known as the Fulbright grants for overseas study.
The problem of Fulbright fellowships first came prominently to McCarthy's attention in June of 1953 when Professor Napthali Lewis of Brooklyn College and his wife both appeared as witnesses before a New York session of the Senate Permanent Investigating sub-committee, of which McCarthy was then the sole member. Several months before, Lewis, a professor of Classical Languages at Brooklyn College, had been awarded a Fulbright grant for study in Italy during the academic year 1953-54.
Mrs. Lewis, herself a former teacher at Brooklyn College, invoked the Fifth Amendment on several occasions in answer to McCarthy's questions as to whether she had been a member of the Communist Party, had held Communist cell meetings in her own home, or had attended Communist meetings elsewhere. McCarthy termed her refusal to testify the same as saying, "I am a member of the party."
Lewis, in testimony later in the day, stated flatly that he was not a member of the Communist Party, had never attended party meetings with his wife, and had no knowledge of party meetings in his home. He refused however, to discuss his wife's alleged membership in the party on grounds that such a question constituted "a grave invasion of the privacy of marriage."
Terming the holder of a Fulbright grant "an ambassador of good will," McCarthy then asked Lewis whether the United States government should not award the grants to "other ambassadors of good will whose wives don't refuse to answer questions as to whether they belong to the Communist Party or refuse to give information to the F.B.I. about members of the Communist Party."
In a statement later, Lewis denounced McCarthy's questioning as an "inquisition." He appears to be interested in my Fulbright Award only to the extent of inquiring into my political opinions and what is even more astonishing, into my wife's politics."
That afternoon McCarthy announced with evident satisfaction that the State Department had officially withdrawn the Fulbright grant from Lewis. "I think it (the cancellation) is an excellent idea," said the Senator.
A month later in a Senate committee hearing, McCarthy became embroiled in a vigorous argument over the grants with Senator J. William Fulbright, author of the act which established the fellowships. While Fulbright agreed that admitted Communists should not receive the grants, he struck back at McCarthy with the statement "I can well imagine intelligent people refusing to answer because they have been the object of indignity."