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Assistant Professor Samuel Shapiro, head of the history department at Michigan State University's Oakland campus, has recently been denied tenure. The Detroit Free Press, reporting the story in its December 8th edition, quoted MSU's Associate Dean George Matthews as saying "Shapiro 'would have had a better chance' if he had written less and said less about Cuba and Latin-American affairs."
Shapiro's articles on Cuba have appeared in the Nation and the Atlantic Monthly. They term U.S. policy "inflexible," insist that responsibility for Cuba's drift to the left is two-sided, and warn that even an invasion by 250,000 U.S. troops would not bring about a clear-cut military victory. Shapiro, a 35 year-old man whose wife also teaches at MSU, returned from a visit to Cuba in August, and then referred to Cuba as a Communist dictatorship and a police state.
These references did not, however, eliminate the residue of controversy which a Lansing television station had started when it said, in reference to Shapiro, "we do not think a State-supported institution should be a refuge for Communists or fellow-travellers." The station suggested that Shapiro teach in Cuba. The State of Michigan has a long and unenviable record of applying political pressure on its public universities. At Wayne State in Detroit, curriculum and personnel have, from time to time, been subject to a tacit veto by the state legislature which allocates funds. Michigan State, which boasts of being the "pioneer land grant college," seems to be receptive to similar pressures.
The snide irony of Dean Matthews statement to the press ("his writing has been on a level of journalism, and in a man seeking tenure we look for scholarship,") will encourage members of the academic community, particularly aspiring ones, to shy away not only from controversy but any substantive participation in current affairs. Shapiro's firing does not speak well for the name of Michigan State University; other academic communities cannot ignore it: there is no such thing as an isolated blow to academic freedom.
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