MAY 22, 1952
NEW YORK, Wednesday—The Economic and Social Council met yesterday for its first session, and the galleries were crowded. This is a good sign that people visiting the U.N. actually have an interest in what is going on.
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A little magazine, written and edited by a group of American students at Oxford, was delivered to my desk the other day. I read many of the articles because these students are not undergraduates, but are, for the most part, men taking graduate courses. Many of them not only have lived for years here in America but have spent much time in other countries.
One article particularly interested me. It spoke of the fact that Oxford is fondly known as "the home of lost causes," but went on to say that, fortunately, the untrammeled freedom of the mind to search for truth has never been lost at Oxford.
The articles discuss our present attitude in this country—loyalty oaths at the University of California; journalistic smear campaigns by the Chicago Tribune against leading universities; theories of academic freedom such as the one expounded in the recent book, "God and Man at Yale;" a proposed investigation of Sarah Lawrence College by the local branch of the American Legion; and gambling scandals in college basketball and widespread professionalism in college football. These things, the writers say, are the products of confusion and fear; they are symptoms of a widespread basic misunderstanding of the theories of higher education.
One article goes back to the academy of Plato, founded more than 2,000 years ago, and reminds us that Thomas Jefferson in the United States reaffirmed his belief in the academic tradition of Western civilization when he said of the University of Virginia: "This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind, for here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate error so long as reason is left free, to combat it."
Reading this article by an American, one gets a feeling that the young outside America are more conscious of our old traditions of freedom perhaps because they are still practiced, as at Oxford, than are some of our young people here in this country.
One of the last things said in this article bears thinking over by Americans today who are interested in the education of the future:
"Conformity in ideas, materialism in theory, and standardization in practice—these are the threats to the search for truth. If academic freedom should die, American universities will become simply institutions for proclaiming universally the bankruptcy of American ideas."
Let us hope that this possibility, having been drawn to our attention in this little magazine, will never actually come to pass in America. There are moments when I listen to Senator McCarthy and hear about an un-American activities committee when I wonder where our freedoms are going and hope that the academic tradition, which is perhaps one of the strongest in this country, will save us from the kind of complete conformity which kills originality and truth.