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Protecting the Myth of the Ivory Tower

If nothing else, Roger L. Geiger's review of my book about McCarthyism and the universities, No Ivory Tower, shows how controversial the topic remains (The Scientist, December 15, 1986, p. 25). In his attempt to sustain the myth that the academic community protected its members from McCarthyism, Geiger distorts the evidence. His seemingly precise discussion of the main academic freedom cases of the 1950s alludes to some, but not all, of the dismissals noted in the book (themselves only a sample

By | January 26, 1987

If nothing else, Roger L. Geiger's review of my book about McCarthyism and the universities, No Ivory Tower, shows how controversial the topic remains (The Scientist, December 15, 1986, p. 25). In his attempt to sustain the myth that the academic community protected its members from McCarthyism, Geiger distorts the evidence. His seemingly precise discussion of the main academic freedom cases of the 1950s alludes to some, but not all, of the dismissals noted in the book (themselves only a sample of the dozens of firings that occurred during the McCarthy years). Furthermore, Geiger does not deal with the rest of the purge.

He does not, for example, mention the academic community's blacklist. Only a few of the professors who lost their jobs because of McCarthyism could find new ones. The others, denied academic employment for nearly 10 years, either left the United States or gave up their scholarly careers. Even more than the dismissals, the near universality of the blacklist indicates how thoroughly the academic community collaborated with the McCarthyites.

Geiger also ignores the "chilling effect" of the dismissals and blacklist. When a graduate student in physics at the University of Chicago wanted a soft drink machine for the laboratory, his fellow students refused to sign a petition for it. They did not want to jeopardize their careers by putting their names on anything. Obviously, when students at one of the most liberal schools in the nation feared repercussions if they petitioned for Cokes, America's colleges and universities had not protected political freedom very well.

—Ellen W. Schrecker
Dept. of History
129 Dickinson Hall,
Princeton University Princeton, NY 08544

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