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Radical Students and "Red" Professors
No sooner had the student movement emerged than speculation began about the sources of campus activism. Since such large scale student protest was unprecedented in the nation's history, it was natural that a variety of theories would evolve as Depression America sought to explain this new phenomenon. An assortment of conservativeswhich included superpatriots, redbaiting editors, and politicianswrote the most and screamed the loudest about the causes of student radicalism during the 1930s; they did so because of their outrage at the growth of Left-led organizations and student anti-war demonstrations on campus. Their most frequent explanation for this unwelcome upsurge of student activism centered on the faculty, whom they blamed for corrupting and radicalizing youth.
The conservative press depicted college faculty as dangerously subversive. Professors emerged in these pages as a sort of academic branch of the Red Army. "There are few colleges or universities where parents may send their sons and daughters without their being contaminated with some phase of the vilest of Communistic and allied teaching," warned Roscoe J.C. Dorsey, in The National Republic, a superpatriot magazine which crusaded against faculty and student radicalism. In this same journal E. D. Clark, president of the Indiana State Medical Association, diagnosed "Red Microbes in Our Colleges," evoking fears of political and sexual radicalism. The Hoosier doctor claimed that "under the guise of 'academic freedom' many professors . . . are not only teaching communism, socialism, anarchy . . . but are also endorsing 'free love' and unrestricted sex relations between unmarried people." 
This rightwing indictment of the faculty was not confined, however, to the college level. Conservatives hurled similar charges against teachers in secondary and even elementary schools. The Hearst press, which did so much to give such charges national circulation, claimed in 1935 that thanks to the work of subversives in the nation's school systems "two hundred thousand Soviet schoolbooks have been imported into America."  According to these rightwing critics, youths' support for radicalism in college derived from exposure to subversion by teachers at all levels of the American educational system. Typifying this faculty-bashing, the Hearst editorial "Red Teachers" concluded that
Although the sensationalism of such Hearst stories (which produced those mythological textbooks smuggled from Russia) makes it difficult to take the conservative view of student radicalism too seriously, that view did have serious consequences. It led anti-communists, seeking the elimination of student radicalism, to launch political attacks on the purported source of that radicalism: subversive faculty members. This was expressed through a movement, spearheaded by superpatriot groups, to impose loyalty oaths on teachers. By the end of the Depression decade, twenty-one states had adopted such oaths. The volatility of the faculty radicalism issue was also evident in such conservative assaults on faculty dissent as that which occurred at the University of Chicago in 1935. Here pharmacy magnate Charles R. Walgreen caused great upheaval by removing his niece from the University, and charging that he did so because she had been indoctrinated in communism and free love by Chicago faculty members. Though not even Walgreen's niece fully supported his charges, they were all the Illinois state legislature needed as a pretext for launching an investigation into subversion at the University of Chicagoan investigation which failed to turn up any Bolsheviks or free love advocates on the faculty.
The loyalty oaths and the Chicago investigation attest that for conservatives such faculty-baiting was almost irresistible. It appealed to both the anti-radical and anti-intellectual currents in 1930s conservatism. For rightwing politicians and journalists, moreover, this seemed a cause tailor made for public approval-complete with emotionally charged images of adult "Commie" professors preying on innocent youths. The free love charge added incestuous overtones to an already explosive brew. But whatever its merits as a tool for demagoguery, such faculty scapegoating misrepresented the political situation in American educational institutions. Throughout the Depression decade, the Right exaggerated the dimensions of faculty radicalism and the role of teachers in both sparking student protest and building the student movement.
The best sources for assessing the role that faculty played in turning students to activism are the students themselves. The SLID in 1935 and the ASU in 1938 and 1939 held summer leadership institutes for student organizers, during which more than 70 activists completed essays about their politicization. Dozens of activists have written memoirs and given interviews in which they too discussed the roots of their activism. These sources suggest that faculty did not play a predominant role in the politicization of 1930s activists. Only 21.6 percent of the activists reported that a faculty member fostered their politicization, and most of these activists mentioned such faculty influence as only one of many factors which contributed to their politicization. This 21.6 percent figure looks even smaller, moreover, in light of the fact that another 20 percent of the student activists cited unpleasant experiences with reactionary faculty who had sought to stifle student dissent and non-conformity.  There were, in other words, almost as many student organizers who viewed faculty as an obstacle to Left-liberal activism as viewed faculty as facilitators of such activism.
Among the 20 percent recording negative encounters with conservative faculty were young men and women with painful classroom memories dating back to elementary school. One ASU activist recalled that his parents' organizing on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti had made a "deep impression" on him. In grade school, however, his teacher lectured the class on "what kind of 'bad' men Sacco and Vanzetti were." This led to "my spontaneous outcry that she was a liar, and [a] subsequent talk with the public school principal about how the labor movement was a bad thing." Another activist told of being frightened by an elementary school teacher, who had become "aghast . . . and furious" after she told the teacheras her radical parents had told herthat in 1917 the United States "had not entered the war to avenge the Lusitania . . . that it had something to do with munitions makers and raw materials." Faculty intolerance sometimes had ethnic as well as ideological dimensions, judging by a Columbia student radical's memories of his kindergarten teacher, who in 1919 called him a "little enemy" and marched him off to see the principal because he had sung a German song taught him by his parents. A University of Wisconsin ASU organizer wrote of being scolded by a teacher and sent to his junior high school principal's office for expressing "opposition to larger armaments. This was my first experience with narrow-mindedness in the school system." 
Even some students who had not experienced such traumatic confrontations recalled their pre-college education as dull or deadening to dissident thought. A Vassar ASU leader looked back upon her prep school as a place whose classrooms and student body were pervaded by "narrowness and conservatism." The students there were a "group of girls of the typically Boston sub-deb[utant] variety . . . whose main interest seemed to be boys and parties." Another ASU activist noted that her only contact with politics in secondary school had been
A Bryn Mawr ASU organizer termed as "disgraceful" the faculty at her Philadelphia High School. "Little or no independent thinking is encouraged. Students are expected to repeat parrot-like the opinions expressed to them . . . [by] reactionary or escapist" teachers. 
Youths who entered the student movement before graduation from such schools were not-as the Hearst press preached-following the direction of teachers; they were rebelling against the orthodoxy and conformity fostered by those teachers. And those daring enough to engage in this open rebellion often encountered strong hostility from faculty and school authorities. An ASU organizer from Cleveland noted that in her high school
A New York City ASUer described how a repressive teacher monitored the radical students in his high school's Current Problems Club: "We were silenced by the faculty advisor whenever we tried to mention ASU .... At High School we protested consistent faculty censorship of the paper of assemblies, of clubs, magazine and student council." Another New Yorker with similar high school experiences believed that he had come out of this intolerant milieu strengthened by adversity. His "long initiation of . . . arguing with teachers .... standing up against the discipline of Principal Boylan, the many threats of violence from the football team, as well as the threats of arrest for distributing literature must have been good training for leadership" in the student movement. 
Not only these individual memoirs, but also the student movement's publications refute the Right's equation of American educators with revolutionary subversion. In the ASU's national magazine, Student Advocate teachers, professors, and educational administrators appear much more frequently as foes than friends of the student movement. The magazine's most extensive feature on American educators was a six part series on intolerant college presidents, indicting these "Academic Napoleons" for trying to stamp out dissent on their campuses. The magazine's other coverage of the American educational scene-with such headlines as "University Sweatshops," "Gagging High Schools," "Kansas Is A White Man's School," "ROTC Trains Strike Breakers," "How to Be A Censored [Student] Editor,"-paints an equally unflattering portrait of reactionary, narrow-minded and repressive educational leadership. The Student Advocate lampooned stodgy and conservative professors, depicting them as comically inept teachers, out of touch with recent political and cultural developments. In fact, the ASU magazine even invoked this image in an ad for new subscribers, which featured a professorial caricature, accompanied by the words:
Not all teachers, of course, were as uninformed or reactionary as these ASU stories implied. After all, 21.6 percent of the student activists surveyed did credit a faculty member with helping to politicize them and pave the way for their participation in the student movement. Who were these faculty? Here again the Right's revolutionary imagery of red teachers engaging in communist indoctrination was simplistic. More than a third of the students (in the 21.6 percent group) who reported that a faculty member helped politicize them referred not to radical instructors preaching revolution, but to liberal faculty teaching about reform. 
This considerable liberal role reflected the fact that the 1930s was the decade of the New Deal, an era in which liberalism prevailed in the White House and much of America. Nationally, faculty were more affected by this liberalism than they were by radicalism. An overwhelming 84 percent of social science professors supported New Deal liberalism, according to a 1937 national poll.  Some of this sentiment would, of course, be reflected in the classroom. The result was that at least some students would be exposed to liberal idealism and critical thought about American society. This would not make instant revolutionaries out of these students; but it exposed them to new political ideas, in a way that could leave them more receptive to the appeals of ASU organizers. This was particularly true during the Popular Front era, when the politics of the ASU and the New Deal were so similar.
There were a variety of ways in which liberal teachers prodded students to think about social problems and thereby helped to politicize them. These included teaching students about social science, political problems, and the need for reformist efforts to address those problems. One ASU activist recalled that several progressive teachers in the private high school she attended introduced her
A midwestern ASU organizer observed that he too had become politically conscious after his exposure to critical thought in the social sciences. College "courses in economics, history and political science awakened me to local, national and international affairs . . ." So when Molly Yard and another ASU leader came to his campus, he helped organize an ASU chapter, seeing this activist group as a vehicle "to solidify and to integrate my many new interests."  In other cases, it was not social science methodology, but the idealism of liberal teachers that inspired students to become politically active. A North Carolina ASU organizer, for instance, found that "one of the greatest stimuli to liberal and intelligent thinking I have received came from my high school history teacher. She had a great deal of faith in and understanding of the common person and this she passed on to some of her pupils." 
The liberal teachers who helped inspire student activism came not only out of the New Deal tradition, but also out of other progressive strains in American political culture. ASU national officer Celeste Strack, for instance, recalled that her first steps toward political consciousness came before college, through the influence of a feminist teacher, who was the principal of her small private school in San Diego. This teacher had herself once been a student rebel, active at Vassar during the women's suffrage campaign. She taught Strack in a manner that reflected the critical sensibility of the women's movement, having, as Strack put it,
African American student activist Kenneth Clark had a similar experience with Howard University faculty, whose critical teachings on race relations in the United States prodded him to engage in civil rights agitation. Other students headed in an activist direction after learning from teachers influenced by progressive educationparticularly in the Ethical Culture schoolswhich emphasized liberal values and the importance of acting on them. 
By understanding the role played by liberal faculty as well as their conservative counterparts, it becomes possible to put faculty radicalism into perspective. Among the students in our sample activist group who cited some faculty roleeither positive or negativein their political evolution, more than twice as many mentioned liberal and conservative faculty as mentioned radical faculty. Out of the entire activist group sampled only 11.2 percent said that radical faculty contributed to their politicization. This low number suggests that though leftist teachers contributed to politicizing students and strengthening the student movement, that contribution was much less significant than Hearst and other rightwing critics of the faculty imagined. 
The relatively small contribution leftist faculty made to the movement was linked to the tenuous nature of such professorial radicalism. Faculty radicals constituted a small and insecure minority. Since college administrators usually believed it improper for faculty to engage in leftist agitation, they used their power to discourage such activity. This administration anti-radicalism meant that faculty members who chose to identify themselves closely with the student Left were risking their jobs. Among the faculty who took this risk (usually young instructors rather than professors) and lost were Oakley Johnson at CCNY, Donald Henderson at Columbia, Herbert Miller at Ohio State, and Jerome Davis at Yale. Their firings received extensive press attention and served as a strong deterrent to leftist facultywho were not anxious to lose their jobs in a depressed era, when faculty positions were particularly hard to come by. In addition to fear of firing, a professorial ethical code sometimes inhibited faculty expression of radicalism. Some (though by no means all) leftist faculty thought it unprofessional to use the "classroom as an instrument of indoctrination." "We had," as one radical faculty member explained, "a lurking feeling that it wasn't quite good sportsmanship to try to influence young people [politically]at least to make use of our position in the classroom to do this." 
Few students could expect to encounter an overtly radical faculty member in Depression America, when such faculty were small in number, insecure in their jobs, and divided themselves about the propriety of radical proselytizing in the classroom. About the rarest experience of all was encountering teachers who explicitly incorporated Marxist ideas into their lectures and other regular classroom activities. This did occur, however, in a few college courses in the social sciences and humanities, usually on campuses reputed to be among the most permissive. At Harvard, for instance, the Marxist economist Paul Sweezy, jointly offered a course with a more conservative colleague to give students both the pro- and anti-capitalist perspective.  Vassar College, with its unique feminist tradition, allowed several radical professors the freedom to give their courses a socialist slant. At a scattering of the more progressive private secondary and lower schools, it was also possible to run into a teacher who brought radical politics into the classroom. One student activist from Western Reserve University noted that a teacher in her Ethical Culture school, who "preached a sort of Utopian Socialism" helped to shape her politics. 
Since the atmosphere on most campuses was not free enough for such overt radical teaching, student encounters with faculty radicalism tended to occur outside the classroom. The vehicle for this encounter was sometimes the campus' Marxist study group, where small groups of leftist faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates assembled for informal discussions of radical theory. A socialist student organizer from the University of Louisville recalled that on arriving at college
The covert nature of these encounters sometimes gave them a special intensity, as students and teachers shared forbidden Marxist knowledge. This was evident in the memoirs of an ASU activist in a prominent eastern women's college. In linking her radicalization to "a fascinating series of Marxist" discussion group meetings with a leftist faculty member, she explained that "there was an exciting atmosphere of secrecy about each meeting. It was only as I got more involved in the actual analysis of Marxian theory that I realized how terribly important the class struggle was and how equally important my relationship to it could be."  An African American student radical from Fisk recalled that here too secrecy was necessary because the administration and town authorities were so anti-radical. The underground nature of her interaction with the few Communist professors on campus added to its allure:
She soon became involved in a radical discussion group with these leftist professors. Similarly, an ASU activist from Randolph-Macon College noted that the secret conversations she had with a young radical psychology professor were "the most important single influence in my intellectual growth." After taking a course with this professor and becoming her research assistant,
Whether such learning was covert or overt its impact could be great on the individual student. Radical faculty willing to share their ideas with undergraduates were exposing them to criticism, authors, and a worldview that could seem new and exciting. This was particularly true for students from conservative families, such as Celeste Strack, who had never before been exposed to Marxist ideas. She first encountered Marxism in her class with a radical economics teacher at USC, and found it to be a "very different way of looking at the world, and it was a very critical way." Strack viewed Marxist conceptsdialectical materialism and class analysisas a "scientific instrument" that enabled her to dig below the rhetoric of politicians and businessmen, revealing the economic interests and structures that had caused the Depression and shaped history. Strack looked back upon this introduction to radical ideas as "an enormously liberating experience," like " a light turning on in the room; it was literally the illumination of the world . . . a profound experience."  For her, the teachings of this radical professor were so memorable that even a half century later she still vividly recalled the course's final exam question which probed the "contradictions" of capitalism. At Harvard, Paul Sweezy made a similar impact on the young Leo Marx, who would later become one of America's leading cultural historians. Marx rated Sweezy "a strong teacher" who persuaded him
Not all students who encountered such faculty radicalism recall it with the same warm glow as Strack and Marx. Some viewed this political teaching as an abuse of authority and a form of indoctrination. In novelist Mary McCarthy's memoirs of her years at Vassar, she scorned
Even though such heavy-handed proselytizing was uncommon among leftist faculty, McCarthy's words confirm that it did go on. Sometimes, in fact, faculty went even further, actually recruiting students into communist or socialist-led organizations. The Fisk student discussed above was approached by a faculty member about joining the Communist Party, as was James Wechsler by a zoology instructor at Columbia. An economics instructor played this same role for the LID at the University of Louisville. But these were extremely rare cases, involving only 2.4 percent of the activists sampled. Moreover, such recruitment went on outside the classroom and was confined to students who had already participated in extensive political discussions or radical activities with the instructor. 
Viewed in the context of the total educational experience of the 1930s, the controversy over radical indoctrination seems not only overblown, but also representative of a political double standard.  The autobiographical essays, interviews, and published memoirs of the 125 activists sampled here indicate that students confronted all kinds of politics in the classroom: conservative, liberal, and radical. If bringing politics into the classroom is equated with indoctrination, then this was not merely a sin of the Miss Lockwoods of the Left. The teacher who scolded his student for opposing armaments and the principal who lectured the pro-Sacco and Vanzetti pupil on the evils of organized labor engaged in conservative indoctrination Likewise, the instructor who preached to students about her Jacksonian faith in the common man and the professor who stumped for unions and reform engaged in liberal indoctrination. Those radical faculty who brought their politics into their classes were not guilty, then, of some uniquely sinister approach to teaching. Their only crime consisted of teaching an opposing point of view, too far out of the mainstream to be tolerated by the Right.
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