To the Editor:
Two arguments (amid much hysteria) appearing in Paul R. Hays’s critique of the AAUP report on academic freedom (“Academic Freedom and Communist Teachers,” June) deserve comment. The first is that all Communists are committed to revolution and that hence they should be barred from teaching positions. This argument is an inferential one, not an empirical one. Hays presents no data regarding the number of Communist teachers in our school systems, no data on the proportion of them convicted on charges of espionage and sabotage (or even perjury). He ignores even the frequent citation in the AAUP report of dismissed professors whose competence and loyalty were unquestioned and whose sole “offense” was their refusal to answer questions about Communist affiliation.
The argument neglects the factor of flexibility (or if you prefer, inconsistency) in human behavior. It could be used just as well to bar Christian Scientists from teaching physics since they are committed to the doctrine of the unreality of matter, Catholics from teaching modern scientific psychology since they are committed to the doctrine of the existence of a soul, Christians from serving as ROTC instructors since they are committed to the doctrine of non-retaliation for injury suffered, or Jews from the FBI since they are committed to the Biblical injunction “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people.”
His second argument is analogical. Just as we do not invite homosexuals to teach homosexuality or Egyptians to teach Egyptology, and just as we did not invite Nazis to teach Nazism, so we should not invite (or permit) Communists to teach Communism. (I trust that I may dismiss the reference to Egyptology as rhetoric since it would require us to exhume the bones of the ancient Egyptians.)
As for the homosexuals, I should judge that members of a class in abnormal psychology could understand homosexuality much better if they had opportunity to see and talk with a homosexual in person than if they merely read about him in a book. The researchers, of course, had that opportunity. Why not the students?
As for the Nazis, in the 30’s a professor of German at our college visited Hitler’s Germany and returned enthusiastic about what he saw. Though we were unhappy over his “conversion,” no attempts were made, as far as I can recall, to “purge” him, to force him to answer whether he was or had ever been a member of the German-American Bund, or to require him to take special oaths of nondisloyalty. I trust that it is not necessary to remind any socially conscious person of the Lindberghs and the General Woods who up to the very day that the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor were marching up and down the land urging Americans to join the “wave of the future.”
In a sense, we teachers “invite” fascists, Communists, atheists, psychotics, and deviants of all types into our classes constantly—through the medium of their writings. Our students are “addressed” by Marx and Herbert Hoover, John Dewey and Plato, Rousseau and Gandhi. Censorship of the teacher implies censorship of teaching—of the textbook and the curriculum. What happens to academic freedom and the life of scholarship then?
What amazes me most about Hays’s essay is his disregard of the fact that virtually none of the dismissed professors referred to in the AAUP report were established to be Communists. Since 1949, my tabulation shows, 18 collegiate institutions have dismissed 78 teachers. Only three of these were clearly established to be Communists. (I do not consider refusal to answer a question about Communist party membership clear evidence of such membership.) The remainder refused to answer questions or take oaths, were active in the Progressive party, defended Soviet science against charges of political control, contributed to the Spanish loyalists, signed a petition for amnesty to eleven national leaders of the Communist party convicted under the Smith Act, failed to show “proper loyalty” to their university, or were “Communist in spirit.”
These facts seem to me to indicate that the issue is not subversion, but conformity. For this reason these cases impress me, along with other members of the AAUP, as constituting serious threats to academic freedom.
San Diego, California
To the Editor:
Paul R. Hays decries the “emotive words” used by the American Association of University Professors in its report on academic freedom. In rebuttal, Mr. Hays himself refers to “the priggishness of this academic aloofness” on the part of “professors so steamed up that they have forsaken logic and common sense” in their “muddled, slogan-ridden thinking,” “specious reasoning and resort to catchwords.”
In place of an emotional polemic, Commentary and Mr. Hays might have better presented a balanced discussion of the complex issues involved in maintaining a strong tradition of academic freedom without at the same time abdicating to rigid dogmatists and false messiahs.
For example, Mr. Hays concludes his article in a sympathetic frame of mind for the position that we should exclude all teachers whose “‘commitments or obligations to any organization, Communist or other, prejudice impartial scholarship and the free pursuit of truth. . . .’” An admirable sentiment, of course, but what does it mean? Do we exclude Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Marxists, trade-union leaders, psychoanalysts, Dodger fans. . . ? Ultimately, whom shall we not exclude?
Mr. Hays has done a great disservice to the position he advocates no less than to those who argue that teachers should be fired only for “gross misconduct” by his failure to define the issues.
Israel W. Charny
Rochester, New York
Mr. Hays writes:
If my article had been intended to present the arguments against permitting Communists to teach, it would have had to deal with the points Mr. Ruja and Mr. Charny make. Since I intended a criticism only of the case made by the AAUP Report, I found it necessary only to refer to the arguments which have been offered by such professors as Hook, Counts, and Childs, and which the report ignored. The pummeling I have received at the hands of Mr. Ruja and Mr. Charny is therefore as irrelevant as if they had criticized my comments on McCarthy on the ground that I had failed to make out a case for Communism.