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Faculty & Alumni: Assessment 4

Rutgers Alumni Monthly, Letter from Lewis Lasagna, Class of 1943, dated February 1953

Please read the document below and then answer the five questions following the reading.

Rutgers Alumni Monthly

February 1953



No one in possession of his senses doubts that these are times of stress. It is likewise agreed (in this country) that communism (as defined by the Russians or the Communist Party of today) is a threat to liberty. It is, however, not incompatible with the above sentiments to believe:

  • There are many ways of thought on economics, politics, history- indeed on any sphere of human interest.
  • The legal concept of "innocent until proven guilty" is preferable to "guilty until proven innocent."
  • A teacher's fitness to teach is determined by grasp of his material and ability to communicate that material in an interesting and essentially undistorted way.
  • A teacher's private life is of no concern to the institution which employs him unless he is guilty of moral or legal aberrations which are embarrassing to the university and/or shed considerable doubt on the ability of the teacher to teach his chosen subject.

The recent controversy over the two Rutgers professors has been settled with no glory to Rutgers. The faculty review committee (in an admirable analysis) found the two instructors guilty of no crime and fit to teach, and (rightly) recommended that no further action be taken. Now, the president and trustees have seen fit to overrule the committee's recommendations and dismiss the instructors in question.

The reasons for the dismissal are not particularly clear. Neither of the two men has been shown to be a member of the Communist Party. (Indeed, one man has given Dr. Jones written assurance to the contrary.) Apparently the University is unwilling to grant that the Fifth Amendment applies to its staff. This, in light of the threatened governmental inquiry into universities, augurs ill for academic freedom if the other universities follow suit. That not all college officials agree with those of Rutgers is evident in Dr. Conant's remarks yesterday:

"As to the charges that some professors hold unpopular political opinions, the answer is, of course, they do. It would be a sad day for the United States if the tradition of dissent were driven out of the universities.

"For it is the freedom to disagree, to quarrel with authority on intellectual matters, to think otherwise, that has made this nation what it is today.

"Indeed, I would go farther and say that our industrial society was pioneered by men who were dissenters, who challenged orthodoxy in some field and challenged it successfully. The global struggle with Communism turns on this very point."

Of greater interest in this whole matter are the opinions of the justices of the Supreme Court in the recent Oklahoma loyalty oath dispute. They were unanimous in condemning the oath. Justice Black's comments were particularly apropos:

"The Oklahoma oath statute is but one manifestation of a national network of laws aimed at coercing and controlling the minds of men. Test oaths are notorious tools of tyranny. When used to shackle the mind they are, or at least they should be, unspeakably odious to a free people. Test oaths are still made more dangerous when combined with bills of attainder which, like this Oklahoma statute, impose pains and penalties for past lawful associations and utterances"

"˜Our own free society should never forget that laws which stigmatize and penalize thought and speech of unorthodox have a way of reaching, ensnaring, and silencing many more people than at first intended. We must have freedom of speech for all or we will in the long run have it for none but the cringing and the craven.' "

To these statements I can only add "Amen" and a reminder that there is always a danger that measures taken to meet a threat result in the destruction of that which is threatened. In a carry-over from the occurrence of this phenomenon in medicine, we call this situation "a case of the cure being worse than the disease."


Assessment 4

  1. What is Lasagna's position regarding the Heimlich-Finley case?
  2. According to Lasagna, what is Rutgers University's responsibility to provide academic freedom?
  3. Why is academic freedom important to American society?
  4. How did Justice Black and the Supreme Court react to Oklahoma's Loyalty Oath Statute?
  5. In his closing statement, what does Lasagna mean when he says "the cure is worse than the disease"?