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Mr. Furry's Duty


When a Federal Grand Jury two weeks ago indicted Wendell Furry and Leon Kamin for contempt of Congress, Boston editors hoped the University finally would provide some dramatic headline material in the case. Once more they were disappointed. Echoing a statement made last August when the pair was originally cited for contempt, the Corporation declared, "So long as the case is pending, we do not think it appropriate to make any further statement on the subject." Such declaration may not make much of a splash on the news pages, but its importance is illustrated by another statement, from McGill University where Kaman is now teaching. Said McGill's president, "The court still has to make up its mind. Then, obviously, we can't do anything until it decides."

Both Universities are to be congratulated for their self-restraint, but Harvard should be particularly proud. Perhaps McGill would have made the same decision anyway, but undoubtedly it was made much easier by the fact that McGill's trustees knew from previous statements what Harvard's policy would be. That McGill chose this path rather than that of Cornell, which relieved Professor Singer of his teaching duties, and M.I.T., which suspended Professor Struck, when the two men were indicted, is a tribute to Harvard's leadership.

The University's decision to defer any action for the present follows logically from its previously stated policy. The latest statement indicates the Corporation's continued belief in full testimony before investigation committees. But it also reveals a firm conviction that the Corporation's feelings about the wisdom of Furry's decision not to name names are beside the point, and that the decision rests with the courts alone.

We have always felt that Furry was wrong in not agreeing to give the FBI the names of the scientists with Communist affiliations who worked with him at the M.I.T. radiation lab during the last war. As we stated at the time of his refusal, we believe it is not up to Furry to decide who is or is not a threat to the security of the nation. It is also not up to Senator McCarthy, and Furry's action in refusing to give names to such a careless publicity seeker was justified. But investigation is the job of the FBI and Furry had a duty as a citizen to reveal the names to that agency.

On the other hand, Furry also has a duty to his own conscience. Both he and Kamin were unwilling to subject others to what they had undergone. Furry felt that in the present political climate even by giving the names of these scientists to the FBI he would be unfairly exposing them to harassment. Whether one agrees, or not, it is undeniable that what he and Kamin did last January took a great deal of courage. In dropping the Fifth Amendment, discussing their own activities freely, and balking only when they were asked to give the names of others, they were voluntarily subjecting themselves to contempt proceedings. Not only was this a courageous act, but it was an unselfish one, for it was done largely to clear away the suspicion which had attached to the University because of the earlier refusal to discuss Communist activities here.

Furry fulfilled his duty to the University last January. The Corporation had objected to his use of the Fifth Amendment about his Communist activities here, and in January he abandoned the Amendment. But in fulfilling his duty as a professor, he brought into the open for the first time the conflict between his duty as a citizen and his duty as an individual with a conscience. If he had continued to shelter himself behind the Fifth Amendment, the latter issue would never have come before the courts.

Now that the indictment has come, the Corporation has taken the only just position. Since Furry has abandoned the one action which the Corporation deplored, and thereby subjected himself to prosecution, the courts must decide what the consequences of his action will be. He has fulfilled his duty to the University and to his conscience; the courts must decide whether he has fulfilled his duty to society.

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