This article by Frank Munk was published on the Op-Ed
page in The
Oregonian on January 24, 1997 in response to an article titled “Reed still
feels Red heat 42 years later” that was published on December 22, 1996. Frank
was 96 years old. It was the last article that he published.
I Acted In Defense Of Academic Freedom
By Frank Munk
The Fall 1996 Issue of the “Oregon
Historical Quarterly” contains a well-documented essay by Michael Munk
about the controversy surrounding the firing by Reed College of Professor
Stanley Moore in 1954. It may seem that something that happened under entirely
different circumstances more than forty years ago is of little interest today,
but I don’t think so.
It is important to return to it because now,
for the first time, we have the proof of what at that time seemed to be
unfounded assertions. Now that Soviet archives have finally been opened, we know
as a fact that the American Communist Party was neither American, nor a genuine
political part, but only a branch of the Soviet party and government and more
specifically of its secret service.
The fact that most members of the party were
unwary of this fact does not change this reality, except that many members got
suspicious before long and left the party in protest. That included Stanley
I would like to emphasize that there existed
a real threat to academic freedom in the United States in the 1950s: from the
right and from the left.
From the right, it was Sen. Joseph McCarthy
and his like, and from the left, the Communist Party. It may seem ridiculous at
the present time, when communists cannot be taken seriously, but at that time
Marxism-Leninism in its Soviet disguise held a strange attraction to many
academicians, at least temporarily. Their influence on American campuses during
that period could not have been ignored.
I made no secret, then or now, that I am
against appointing persons who advocate Communist, Fascist, Nazi or racist
doctrines to teaching positions in American universities. I oppose them because
I have seen with my own eyes how they can undermine and ultimately destroy the
freedom to teach and to learn.
In this connection, I would like briefly to
comment about the article’s reference to me as a European refugee: I am not
alone. The very idea of academic
freedom is, in a way, a refugee from Europe. It did not originate in the United
States, but strangely enough in Central Europe at the time of Frederick the
Great, expanding there later in the 19th century.
British and American universities were at
that time still intimately connected with established or other religions and
could therefore not abide free discussion of important subjects.
It was always clearly understood in Europe
that academic freedom was incompatible with social control from the outside,
especially by governments. It can only be defined by and through the academic
faculties themselves, by their constant vigilance against those who would
destroy it. The refugees who came to this country in the period from 1930 to
1970 had firsthand experience with Nazi and communist total control of
educations, at a time when many American scholars were deaf and blind to
reality. Many of them still denied there was such a thing as totalitarian
There is a corollary in the real political
world. Prior to her confirmation, Madeleine Albright commented that “her
mindset was Munich,” and, one could add, the communist takeover of
Czechoslovakia in 1938. My mindset was very similar.
That reminds me, incidentally, of my
repeated discussions, privately in his home and at academic sessions, with
Albright’s father, Professor Josef Korbel. His views on communism were, by the
way, identical with mine.
In conclusion, I would like to express my
thanks to my son Michael for having brought back to light my modest contribution
to academic freedom in America.
Frank Munk of Southwest Portland is
professor emeritus of political science at both Reed College and Portland State
University. He was a member of the Reed faculty from 1939 to 1965 and was one of
only two faculty members to support the college’s dismissal of Professor
Stanley Moore for refusing to say whether he was a communist.