To the Editor:
In his article “Academic Freedom and Academic Integrity” (COMMENTARY, October 1949), Professor Sidney Hook accuses me of intellectual dishonesty and lack of elementary scholarly care in my study of the recent dismissals at the University of Washington (American Scholar, Summer 1949). The significance of the University of Washington case in the present conflict over freedom of teaching makes it important to set the record straight in regard to my article.
My analysis was based primarily on official reports, supplemented by local and national press accounts and by direct correspondence: the official University Record of the Tenure Cases and two reports of the State Committee on Un-American Activities (the Canwell Committee), its Report to the Legislature of January 1949 and the earlier Second Report, which includes the transcript of testimony on the University cases before the Canwell Committee and shows Mr. Canwell’s method of conducting the hearings. Some evidence from the press and from individuals I was able to verify from the Transcript of the Tenure Committee of which there is a copy in Washington, DC. Other evidence I had verified for me in Seattle. Because of the difficulty in getting accuracy on such a complicated issue at this distance, I sent my manuscript to five persons in Seattle, three of them professors at the University, for checking and correction. Each of these individuals had been in a position to follow closely the proceedings of the Canwell Committee and of the Tenure Committee, and, as far as I am able to judge, had no commitments in advance which would interfere with reliable observation.
Professor Hook criticizes the fact that I based my account of the speech Mr. Canwell delivered in Cheney, Washington, on October 6, 1948, not on press accounts, but (as stated in my footnote) on the report of four people who heard and took notes on the speech. The Spokane Spokesman-Review, strong supporter of Mr. Canwell, and the Communist-oriented People’s World,of San Francisco, both carried brief summaries of this speech. There seemed, however, to be a presumption in favor of the greater reliability of the full report of the speech sent to me by a teacher in Cheney and confirmed by three other teachers who heard it. The Spokesman-Review, for example, reports Mr. Canwell as saying: “There are more Communists in Washington now than there were in any of the nations which fell prey to Russia” (October 7, 1948, page 51), whereas the teachers quote Mr. Canwell as making the somewhat more careful statement that “There are more Communists per capita in Washington than there were in Poland or Czechoslovakia . . . .” The conclusion of the speech as reported by the teachers—“Social conditions have nothing to do with Communism. Communism is caused by Communists and nothing else”—is not quoted in the Spokesman-Review but is paralleled by another printed statement of Mr. Canwell’s: “Communism is not caused by economic conditions. If Communism had its genesis in poverty . . . the log cabins of the pioneers of America would have bred a race of Communists . . .” (Exchange, National Exchange Club, June 1948).
In regard to the particular sentence I referred to, “If someone insists there is discrimination against Negroes in this country, or that there is inequality of wealth, there is every reason to believe that person is a Communist,” there was a slight difference of opinion among the four people who reported it as to word order and as to whether Mr. Canwell said “ . . . or that there is inequality of wealth . . . ” or “ . . . and that there is inequality of wealth . . .”; there was no difference as to the substance of what Mr. Canwell had said. Because of the tense political atmosphere in which public education at present operates in Washington, I did not publish the names of the four teachers on whose account of this speech I based my statement. Their names and official positions, their complete report of the speech, and the pertinent correspondence, have been submitted to the editor of the American Scholar.
As further proof of my unscrupulous scholarship Professor Hook says that Professor Sophus K. Winther “has indignantly denied” the impression I “sought to give” that he “had disavowed the article he wrote for Harper’s about his experiences in the Communist party.” My words were that he now said this article was “an imaginative treatment of facts not to be taken as literal in detail.” It is not clear what it is that Professor Winther denies. Is it his own testimony before the Tenure Committee that his article was “ . . . an imaginative discussion . . . in a rather light vein so that it would not be taken by the average reader as a statement of literal and absolute fact” (Transcript, Vol. VIII, page 746), and that it was “an exaggeration, but of course it was based upon a certain amount of fact” (page 769)?
Professor Hook finds further “violation of the ethics of scholarship” in my suggestion that the dismissals at the University of Washington may have been influenced by the pending legislative appropriation for the University budget, including the appropriation for the new medical school. Since any analysis of social institutions I have done leads me to the conclusion that such pressures do influence public education, since professors at the University and citizens of Seattle who know the situation intimately described in detail the operation of these pressures in this case in terms much stronger and more explicit than those I used, and since none of the available documented evidence in any way contradicted their statements, it would have been distortion of evidence if I had failed to make any reference to the possibility that such pressures may have affected this decision. In another situation Professor Hook might recognize that political and financial pressures on public education do exist in contemporary society and that even well-intentioned individuals sometimes yield to them.
Space does not allow mention of the evidence in my article that Professor Hook ignores or more than brief mention of the more important problems his article raises.
His article concerns identification of “fellow-travelers,” but, except that they are persons whose judgments differ from Professor Hook’s, criteria for identifying them are obscure. Does the term apply to the more than one hundred professors at the University of Washington who have publicly condemned the dismissal of their colleagues, and in the same pronouncement stated their rejection of the Communist party and their support of “every resistance to totalitarianism” (University of Washington Daily, April 7, 1949)?
Professor Hook has repeatedly stated that, in determining competence of teachers, judgment by their faculty colleagues should be decisive. Yet in the case of the University of Washington he supports the President and the Board of Regents in acting contrary to the recommendation of the majority of the Faculty Committee on Tenure. President Allen’s words were, “I recommend that the Board hold with the minority . . .” (Record of the Tenure Cases, page 97). Is it only when the judgment of a majority of a faculty agrees with his own that Professor Hook thinks it should be respected?
Helen M. Lynd
Sarah Lawrence College
To the Editor:
Professor Sidney Hook’s article “Academic Integrity and Academic Freedom” seems to me to fall considerably below the level of what we have a right to expect of both COMMENTARY and Professor Hook, and my preference would be to think of it as simply one of those unfortunate but familiar by-products of a cold war on the home front which all concerned will some day be happy to forget. Since, however, it attacks the competence and integrity of two honest and able scholars and makes proposals which, if adopted, would worsen the already bad condition of academic freedom in this country, it calls for a reply. In disagreeing with Professor Hook on this subject I shall, no doubt, lay myself open to those same charges of intellectual dishonesty and/or incompetence which are his peculiar contribution to the defense of “the liberal spirit” as he seems now to understand it. That, however, is a risk that must be run.
One sentence in the article provides, I think, an instructive insight into its method and import. Professor Hook tells us that “statistical studies show that to this day members of the professoriat constitute the strongest and most influential group of Communist fellow-travelers in the United States” (page 330). Given the commonly understood meaning of “Communist fellow-travelers” in this country as “disloyal Americans,” and the existing public resentment against them, such a statement can hardly fail to heighten the suspicion and ill-will now current in academic circles and to increase the difficulties of independent thinking and teaching on controversial subjects. Yet Professor Hook does not tell us what these statistics are, or where he got them, or whom they are intended to discredit. By what criteria were the “Communist fellow-travelers” among the “professoriat” identified? His own use of this damaging designation is curiously elastic. In this article, persistence in defending Communists against even “the mildest and most justified” (page 330) of administrative measures is noted among the characterizing traits of the breed. Whether those guilty of this particular lapse from academic propriety are ipso facto identified as “fellow-travelers” by those from whom Professor Hook gets his statistics we are not told, nor how, if they are, the meaning of “mild” and “justified” is determined for purposes of computation. Hence it is difficult to tell what, if anything, his assertion means or on how many of his fellow professors it is intended to throw suspicion. As it stands, and in its probable influence on its readers, it is loose talk of a sort more likely to injure than to protect the integrity and freedom that he proses to defend.
Professor Hook’s proposals for dealing with the “fellow-traveling professor” are two. He wants compulsory courses in the colleges to present the truth about both Communism and democracy to the students in such a way as to protect their minds against the wiles and errors of the “travelers.” And he calls on the untainted members of the academic community to denounce their erring colleagues in public in the manner for which his own article, presumably, provides a model. I cannot believe that either of these procedures would reliably serve the ends he has in view.
There is no doubt that students ought to have an accurate knowledge of both Communism and democracy and that the colleges ought in the best way possible supply it. The question is how this can best be done. And the danger is that required courses set up ad hoc to expose the enemy (including of course those members of “the professoriat” that Professor Hook or others who speak with authority find unsound) would operate in fact as “cold war courses” of a too familiar sort in which neither objectivity, independent inquiry, nor integrity would play a major part. And I agree with him that objectivity, unregimented thinking, and scholarly integrity in our colleges are, in these times, greatly needed.
“By their fruits shall ye know them” is an old pragmatic maxim, and a good way to understand what we can expect if Professor Hook’s proposals are adopted is to observe the use he has made of the opportunity this article affords him to wage war on fellow scholars. Dr. Alexander Meiklejohn and Dr. Helen Lynd have written articles criticizing the University of Washington for dismissing members of its faculty for membership in the Communist party. (Dr. Meiklejohn’s article appeared in the New York Times Magazine, March 27, 1949, and Dr. Lynd’s in the American Scholar, Summer 1949.) Evidently criticism of this action is not by itself sufficient to identify the critic as a “Communist fellow-traveler,” for Professor Hook is kind enough to say that even “genuine liberals” may honestly disagree as to its wisdom (page 331). But it turns out nonetheless that the two scholars who have offered such criticism most effectively to a wide public audience have been guilty of lapses from academic competence or integrity of a grievous kind. Dr. Meiklejohn is convicted of ignorance and confusion which, one gathers, only a required course could cure, and Dr. Lynd of violations of the ethics of scholarship in which the fellow-traveling mentality is plainly displayed. If anyone who has defended the University of Washington administration in this controversy has committed comparable errors, Professor Hook does not tell us about it. It would appear that while one may possibly disagree with the authorities on this matter without sinning against academic integrity in the process, the risks of so doing are grave.
Mindful of this peril, I have read and reread Dr. Meiklejohn’s article and must report that I can find in it no evidence of either the confusion or the ignorance of which he is accused. On the contrary, it seems to me that Professor Hook’s criticism radically misinterprets the argument he is attacking. Indeed, if he did not himself so confidently assume his own objectivity and logical impeccability in these matters, I should have been inclined to believe that in this case Professor Hook’s “passionate” defense of truth had led him to a result in which there was more of passion than of truth, or even of elementary fairness to a fine and courageous teacher. But Dr. Meiklejohn’s article can speak for itself. I suggest that COMMENTARY, having given currency to the charges made against it, should now reprint this article in full and allow its readers to judge for themselves who it is that is confused. Many of them, I think, will find it well worth reading on its own account.
The attack on Dr. Lynd is equally unwarranted. She is accused of presenting as a quotation from Mr. (formerly Senator) Canwell of the State of Washington a statement which is in fact a report of what other people say he said at a public meeting, and this Professor Hook considers a violation of the ethics of scholarship.
Now, how did Professor Hook ferret out the fact that this statement was not a direct quotation but the report of persons who had attended the meeting? He read it in Dr. Lynd’s article, where precisely this information is given. But, Professor Hook objects, it was given pages away from the quotation and in small print. True enough. But there was a small number immediately following the statement as quoted, the clear purpose of which was to refer the reader to this further information, similarly numbered, on a later page. This device, often called “the footnote,” is a well known part of the apparatus (if Professor Hook will excuse the expression) of scholarship, and its use among “the professoriat” to indicate the source of quoted statements is of long standing. Such “footnotes” are quite often printed in smaller type and frequently, when there are a number of them, put at the end of an article, a chapter, or even a book, without deliberate intent to mislead the reader. Professor Hook himself was evidently able to figure out the connection between this traditional symbol and its intended referent, and I am confident that many other readers of the American Scholar, in which the article appeared, were equally astute.
This, however, is not the sum of Dr. Lynd’s offending. She did not write Mr. Canwell to ask him whether or not he made this statement as reported. Professor Hook did write him and is happy to announce that the ex-Senator says he never said it and adds that it was made up out of whole cloth by the Communist party and its sympathizers in the State of Washington. This is good enough for Professor Hook; it is just the sort of allegation in which his mind comes happily to rest. On this rock he will build his case.
Yet politicians have before now been known to disavow embarrassing statements which men of good hearing and good conscience had plainly heard them make. And if even one-tenth of those in the State of Washington whom onetime Senator Canwell has denounced as Communists or Communist sympathizers were so in fact, the evergreen state would by no means be the loyal American commuunity that it plainly is. Why then was this assertion simply accepted at its face value by Professor Hook, not only as clearing Mr. Canwell but as discrediting Dr. Lynd and her informants? I should have supposed that the ethics of scholarship, which he so rightly values, would have counseled him to check quite carefully on Mr. Canwell’s record for reliability in allegations of this sort before accepting and passing on to the readers of COMMENTARY so damaging an accusation. He would have found, e.g., in the record of the charges brought by the former Senator and his committee against Professor Melvin Rader, and their decisive refutation, extremely pertinent evidence on just this matter. (For recent developments in this case, which has been for the past year of deep concern to practicing liberals in this country, see the Seattle Times, October 21, 1949.) If Professor Hook has actually taken pains to inform himself about it, and Mr. Canwell’s part in it, his simple faith in this new allegation is very hard to understand. If, however, he has accepted and broadcast this accusation without such an investigation, his interpretation of the ethics of scholarship is almost equally perplexing.
In practice, then, if not in theory, Professor Hook’s procedure, which he recommends for general adoption in the defense of academic freedom and integrity, seems to consist in casting at those who disagree with him not only the first stone, but any others that come to hand, without too careful a consideration as to where he picked them up. This is accepted procedure in partisan electioneering and in the vituperative bickerings of rival Marxist sects. For the discovery and teaching of truth, however, it has never proved a reliable or rewarding method. To fasten it upon our colleges in the name of academic integrity would be a grave disservice to the very cause it is supposed to serve.
Arthur E. Murphy