Academic Freedom

July 5, 1949

Report Outline
Education and Anti-Communist Agitation
Communist Teachers and Academic Freedom
Recent Cases Involving Academic Freedom
New Movement for Teacher Loyalty Oaths

Education and Anti-Communist Agitation

Question Rised by Moves Against Red Infiltration

Extension of anti-Communist agitation into the educational sphere has brought the question of academic freedom to the front and raised, in yet another field, the problem of how to combat possible dangers to the democratic way of life without at the same time doing violence to cherished democratic principles. Increasing resort to extreme measures designed to keep Communists and Communist influence out of American schools and colleges has been a cause of concern to persons who fear that such measures, by impairing or threatening to impair the tradition of academic freedom, entail greater risks than those they are intended to meet.

Handling of the problem of preventing possible Communist infiltration into educational institutions involves various practical and theoretical questions to which there are no ready answers. In the first place, is the danger of subversive activity by teachers sufficiently real to warrant singling them out as a group and requiring them to take special loyalty oaths? Are loyalty oaths, in any case, an effective deterrent to Communists? A party member, adhering to the doctrine that the end justifies the means, presumably would not scruple to take such an oath. The oath in its usual form, moreover, requires the individual who subscribes to it, not to forswear that he is a Communist, but to deny that he believes in or belongs to an organization advocating overthrow of the government by force or violence. And the Supreme Court has not yet ruled that the tenets of the Communist Party of the United States necessarily imply advocacy of the forcible overthrow of the government.

Another question concerns the effect of Communist Party membership on the professional qualifications of a teacher, and on this question educators themselves are divided. One group holds that party membership, with assumed obedience to Communist dogma in all things, compromises the intellectual integrity of a teacher and automatically renders him unfit to discharge the high responsibilities of his profession. But another group opposes any blanket condemnation and insists that each individual should be judged by actual performance. If party members are to be barred outright, there is the further question of what to do about Communist sympathizers and fellow-travellers. And if bans of this sort are imposed, is there danger that they will be used as cloaks for disciplining teachers who express unconventional or unpopular, but not subversive, opinions?

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