FEBRUARY 8, 1949
HYDE PARK, Monday—The question of academic freedom brought about by the dismissal of the professor at the University of Washington who acknowledged that he was a Communist has stirred many people to thought on this subject.
I think we ought first to think through our own position as regards the Communist party in this country. We always have said that in a democracy citizens had a right to advocate peacefully any change in their government. That means that if we hold certain beliefs and want to talk about them and try to persuade others that they are good, we have a right to do so. In such cases we should do it openly and honestly and there should be no coercion.
My objection to what is done by the Communist party in our own and in other countries throughout the world is that it is so largely a hidden and unknown action and that force is used.
Now, let us look again at the question of academic freedom.
If a professor, who is a Communist, teaches his subject honestly, states his own views and also presents to his pupils other views and allows them free discussion, it seems to me that he might possibly, with honesty, remain a teacher in this country, even though the great majority of the country is anti-Communist.
I certainly feel, though, that it would be very difficult for a convinced Communist to teach the values of democracy. If he were to discuss Communism it would be hard for him to do so on a purely theoretical basis. He also would have a very difficult time in discussing many other subjects with the young people with whom he came into daily contact. This question of a convinced Communist, even a theoretical Communist, teaching citizens of a democracy in a university which is supposed to prepare young people for life in a democracy does seem to me to present considerable difficulty for the teacher and the rest of the faculty, as well as for the students.
The crux of the matter seems to be, however, that our main danger at the present time lies in the tendency to label Communist all opinions that are new and, therefore, strange and considered somewhat radical. There have been a number of people recently who have been accused of Communist tendencies. Yet, what they said was no more Communistic than some of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Also, I am sure that there have been a number of others who have been accused of Communism who would find it hard to explain what Communism really is, either in theory or in practice.
This is another of those situations where it seems we will not be able to lay down hard and fast rules. To be sure, we must preserve academic freedom. Freedom to think is essential to democracy in a changing world, but each case will have to be taken up on its own merits, taking into consideration the individuals involved and the particular circumstances surrounding each situation.