For nearly three decades, the House Un-American Activities Committee has abused free speech in America with its clumsy attempts to pinpoint domestic subversion. Fortunately, in recent years HUAC has reared its ugly head only sporadically and has become a source of amusement for a good part of the nation.
For the most part, HUAC has confined its recent activities to investigating the nation's youth--or more specifically, those groups of young Americans which have demonstrated some affinity for anti-war demonstrations and once-illegal trips to Communist nations. And while its star chamber tactics have lost their popularity of the 1950s, they have come to be sadly relevant to many members of the Harvard community--from civil libertarians to members of the Harvard-Radcliffe chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.
Last year the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Michigan both give membership lists of anti-war groups to HUAC when they were subpoenaed. The administrations of both universities, in addition, gave the students called to testify no warning of what might happen. An ad hoc committee at Harvard is afraid the same thing could happen here. The committee wants to prevent this and has asked the University to make a statement refusing to surrender such lists in the event of a HUAC subpoena. President Pusey and the Corporation should agree.
The argument immediately raised by the committee's request concerns Harvard's general policy of avoiding positions that could be construed as "political." Yet HUAC's chilling effect on free speech--in this case, the freedom of students to associate legally with whom they please--would seem to transcend this objection.
The University realizes, of course, that the freedom of the student to engage in legal political activities is a vital component of present educational policy. Harvard has never tolerated even implicit outside restrictions of questionable legality on its students. A prompt stand against yielding to an HUAC subpoena would reaffirm this tradition. Pusey, however, has written the committee a letter stating that the University should wait until it receives a subpoena before taking a stand. Pusey said he wants to postpone any decision until he can understand the terms of HUAC's possible request.
Of course, the Administration could, when subpoenaed, refuse to comply and take the case to court. But it is possible that Harvard would be slapped with an order forcing it to surrender the lists while the issue is being adjudicated. Dean Monro has said in November that the University's lawyers are looking into the matter. They probably could make a good constitutional case against compliance with HUAC.
But the time for action is now--not sometime this side of the indefinite future when HUAC arouses itself and starts Red-baiting the nation's students again. There is a sad chance that Harvard could become involved in a future HUAC imbroglio. Were Pusey to accept the committee's recommendations, he might be able to make HUAC finally realize that it cannot tamper with the academic freedom of campus student groups whenever it decides to appease the rightist fringe.