In 1967 the trustees of the Carnegie Corporation approved a proposal made by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to study the financing of higher education in the United States. A decision was soon made to broaden the study to include as well the system of higher education itself. The inquiry—conducted under the direction of the Carnegie Commission on Higher, Education—was surely the most extensive ever made of the university system in the United States and probably of any other country. From 1967 to 1975 the volumes flowed from the press: twenty-one reports, plus a final report, Priorities for Action; nineteen technical reports; eighty-four volumes of “sponsored research.”
Summing up the work of the commission, Alan Pifer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, wrote that it “has been dispassionate, objective, fairminded, factually based, and imbued with a sense of pragmatic realism.” Higher education “will, as a result, be stronger and better able to serve the nation’s needs.”1
My interest here is in one of the last of the eighty-four monographs to be sponsored by the commission, Education and Politics at Harvard, “Two Essays Prepared for the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education,” by Seymour Martin Lipset and David Riesman. Lipset’s essay provides, I believe, an opportunity to test the aptness of Pifer’s characterization of the work of the commission.
As it happens, David Riesman and Nathan M. Pusey, who as president of Harvard played a leading part in many of the events described in the book, were both members of the commission that undertook the inquiry. Seymour Martin Lipset and Riesman were also members of the Technical Advisory Committee of the commission. Before the book had been completed, the commission set forth its conclusions, and summed up their significance, in part, as follows:
[The] commitment to intellectual creativity [at Harvard] carried with it an emphasis on academic freedom for both faculty and students and an enhancement of faculty power…. During the McCarthy period of the early fifties, Harvard was the Wisconsin Senator’s leading symbolic target in his campaign against intellectual dissidents and Communists. 2
The attack against Harvard by McCarthy was certainly one of the most serious attacks on universities in American history. And since I myself had the offer of a job at Harvard withdrawn for political reasons, I was interested in seeing how the period would be treated. I was, to begin with, somewhat surprised by the relatively brief account of the late 1940s and early 1950s. These years are discussed in about eighteen pages, while the much briefer SDS episode of 1969-1970 is dealt with in twenty-four pages. Professor Lipset and I would agree that both McCarthy’s attack on Harvard and the SDS attempts to disrupt it were outrageous and dangerous. But his main concern is to assess Harvard’s performance in dealing with each. He is not sure that the university responded as it should have to the threat of the SDS—and therefore may have been permanently damaged—but he believes it did respond properly to the threat of McCarthy and other witchhunters. He writes approvingly, for example, that as early as 1949
Authority at Harvard was now clearly on record as opposed in principle to Communist party members’ being allowed to teach, but it also strenuously and at length notified conservative alumni and others that it would refuse to investigate the beliefs and affiliations of professors involved in leftist activities, even those of alleged Communist fronts.
But did it?
At Harvard in the early fifties,” Professor Lipset states,
some unknown number of people who felt themselves vulnerable to attack from investigative agencies were deeply affected by the investigative atmosphere, if not by actual proceedings involving them…. Some, I have heard with good evidence of three such, who never faced public charges, were told by various university authorities, including two Deans, that in one case he could not have a job promised to him, in a second be reappointed to one he had, or in third be recommended to one outside, if they insisted on refusing to cooperate with government investigators seeking information on past Communist activities in which these people were no longer involved.
I am the first of the three cases to which Professor Lipset refers, and I am struck by the rather oblique and offhand way in which he refers to it. He neither analyzes nor explains the “good evidence” he has “heard” of; nor does he discuss how the “various university authorities” he mentions actually treated the people in question. He gives no sense of what other members of the Harvard faculty thought of that treatment. But six of the nine Harvard colleagues who are mentioned by Professor Lipset as having provided “important advice and information” knew about my situation and one of them, who was a participant from the very outset, provided Professor Lipset with considerable information about the matter, and with ways to find out more.
Moreover, Professor Lipset’s collaborator, David Riesman, knew about my situation; indeed, he sought me out during a conference held by the Research Center in Entrepreneurial History at Harvard in 1955 to express the hope that I would not allow myself to become “embittered” by what had happened. Finally, I have known Professor Lipset for many years; he could easily have asked me.
I am also struck by the consequences for his general evaluation of the situation at Harvard of his failure to inquire into these three cases (I wonder whether there were more than three). When Professor Lipset was doing some of his own early research as a graduate student and assistant professor at Columbia University, he was much influenced by the concept of the “deviant case”—What are the specific circumstances under which an “exception” arises and what light does the analysis of the “deviant case” throw on the nature of what seems to be the norm? But here were at least three “deviant cases” about which he gives only the sketchiest information.
During the academic year 1953-1954, I was Research Fellow in Entrepreneurial History at Harvard and also, on invitation from Dean McGeorge Bundy, adviser to faculty members from universities throughout the country who had fellowships from the Fund for the Advancement of Education of the Ford Foundation and who chose to spend all or part of their fellowship year at Harvard. In late March or early April, 1954, Mr. Bundy, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, offered me an appointment as Counsellor for Foreign Students and Dean of Special Students, with some teaching in the history department. On April 9, 1954, he sent me the following letter:
When I talked with you about your appointment for next year, we agreed that you would also do some tutoring in History, and I said I would recommend your appointment as Tutor in the Department of History in addition to the appointments as Counsellor for Foreign Students and Dean of Special Students. However, the Corporation title of “Tutor” was abandoned several years ago, so that your appointment will not include this title. The fact that you will not hold any formal appointment in the Department of History does not in any way affect our understanding that you will do some tutoring in that field, but I wanted to make clear to you the reason why your connection with the Department in a tutoring capacity will not be recognized in your official appointments. If in another year, as I hope may be the case, you are able to do some lecturing in History, we can then add the title of “Lecturer” to your other appointments. But since the title of “Tutor” no longer exists, there is really no other title which we can now use to show your identification with the Department of History.
On April 21, 1954, I found the following note on the desk in my office: “Agent Sullivan of the FBI would like to see Mr. Diamond on Wednesday, April 21, at 2:30.” At 2:30 PM, Agent Sullivan and another FBI agent entered my office. I wrote the following note on the reverse side of the card informing me of their visit:
2 agents, 4/21/54:—Said had been told by couple people in Boston area, formerly from Baltimore, that I am former member. Would like to talk. Said I didn’t feel as if I had anything to say. [They] said if should change my mind, if want to confirm or deny or if want to talk after consulting attorney, to get in touch. Asked if I had any questions—said all was clear.
Four or five days later I received a call from Dean Bundy’s secretary telling me to come to his office at once. I did so. Before either of us began to speak he put a disc on a recording machine and recorded the entire conversation that followed. He told me that he had received information that my proposed appointment might be “embarrassing” to Harvard, and he wanted to know if this were true.
I told him about my past beliefs and activities; by then they were a matter of history. I had been a member of the Communist Party; I had joined in 1941 when I was just twenty-one and when the Soviet Union was bearing the main burden of the war against Hitler, and I had walked away several years after World War II—as did how many others?—when both the world and my perceptions of the USSR and of political commitment itself had changed. I had once thought, after leaving the Party, that I could say “Goodbye to all that.” Bundy’s question showed me I was laboring under an illusion.
For what seemed like several hours (I remember distinctly that he changed the disc on the recording machine at least two or three times) I talked with him about the reasons that had led me to join the Party and then to leave it. At the end of the conversation he said he understood what I had said and that nothing I had said was at variance with the information he had been given. He then asked what I would do if I were asked to discuss the situation with “civic authority” (I am quoting from a copy of a letter I wrote to a friend outside the United States on May 17, 1954, within a few weeks of the event itself), meaning the FBI or a congressional committee. I told him that I would speak fully about myself, but that I would not be an informer against others, that I had no knowledge that others had committed crimes and that, therefore, the only effect of informing upon them would be that they would be fired from their jobs, even those of them who, like me, had long before left the Party.
At that point Bundy told me that to talk only about myself was not good enough, that under those circumstances he would not go through with the appointment that had been agreed upon; but if I were prepared to name the names of those I had known he would put forward my appointment to the Harvard Corporation. He urged this course of action upon me, and suggested that I seek the advice of those members of the faculty who knew me. I’ve always thought—though of course I cannot prove this—that Bundy expected the members of the Harvard faculty to whom I spoke to urge his course of action upon me. That they did not do so was perhaps one reason he became so angry over my case later on.
None of the Harvard faculty members I talked to—some of them friends, some of the people I’d never met before—urged me to do as Bundy had suggested, that is, to promise that I would name names in return for his presenting the case for my appointment to the Corporation. It was not so much that they disagreed with Bundy’s view as that they felt I should make my own decision, that it was not an unworthy one, and that it deserved their support. I made no notes, but I well remember that good man, David Owen, a professor in the history department, saying to me: “Sig, I don’t know if I would behave as you are, but I’d like to believe I would. I’ll speak to Mac”—and he did, and so did others.
In the second, and final, discussion I had with Bundy, I knew the main question would be whether I would name my former political associates. Once again Dean Bundy recorded the conversation. This time he came to the point at once: Would I cooperate by giving the names to the authorities? I had done some research on one earlier case in which Harvard had not required informing as a condition of continued association with the university, and I called Bundy’s attention to it. (I still have the sheet on which I made the notes I took to his office.) In the spring of 1938 Richard Whitney of the New York Stock Exchange was put on trial for committing grand larceny. Two of the witnesses in the case, George Whitney and Thomas W. Lamont, were then and later members of various Harvard governing boards. I pointed out to Bundy that according to The New York Times George Whitney felt “no responsibility” to inform the Stock Exchange about Richard Whitney’s “criminal actions” (April 20, 1938, p. 33), and replied “Certainly not” to the question: “Did you seek advice of counsel as to what action you should take in view of your brother’s improper usage of securities?” (April 21, 1938, p. 3). As to Lamont:
For more than two hours on the witness stand, Mr. Lamont was questioned as to the responsibility he might have felt as a citizen with knowledge of a theft as well as his responsibility to the help of J.P. Morgan and Co. He returned in various forms to the same explanation: That he had not thought so much of the law as of the fact that “my partner, George Whitney,” wanted to save his brother. “Would you expect me…to say I will help you out, but you must trot down to the DA’s office and denounce your brother…?” “How about your responsibilities as a citizen?” “I don’t know whether you are reading a lecture there…. I have been in business for many years and I have tried to discharge my duties as a citizen, and in this instance I felt I was discharging all the duties I was conscious of…. It never occurred to me that I should butt in or that I should denounce Richard Whitney for his terrible mistake.” [April 27, 1938, p. 31].
Perhaps, I thought, Bundy would be moved by these facts. Harvard had not required George Whitney and Thomas W. Lamont to break their connection with the university because they had refused to inform against an associate, even when they knew he had broken the law. My own former associates had broken none that I knew of. In retrospect, I suppose, I must have been very naïve to think that citing the Whitney case would do anything but enrage Bundy. At the end of the meeting, the last I ever had with Bundy, he repeated what he had said earlier: that under no circumstances would the appointment be made unless I named others besides myself, that he could not guarantee that the Corporation would confirm the appointment even if I were to name the names but that he was prepared to push the matter if I did so, and that President Pusey agreed with his disposition of the case.
By the middle of May a number of faculty members, as a group and individually, had spoken to Bundy about my case. It speaks for the decency of these people and of their desire to spare me and my family the pain of continued disappointment that to this day I do not know of all the meetings they had with Bundy and President Pusey or of all they did to attempt to change their policy. (Some of them are still alive; Professor Lipset could have asked them.) But I know, for example that Professor Arthur H. Cole, despairing of getting Bundy to change his mind, asked him if it would be possible for me to work for him personally at the Research Center in Entrepreneurial History, a job which would not need Corporation approval. Dean Bundy answered, “The Corporation is not interested in what you eat for breakfast, Mr. Cole”—while making it clear that Dean Bundy was interested, and unhappy about Cole’s idea. I know, too, that David S. Landes, now of Harvard but then an assistant professor at Columbia without tenure, and therefore in a position to be hurt by a powerful university administrator, went to speak to his friend McGeorge Bundy about me. He was told that: 1) my failure to tell him about myself at the time he offered me the appointment revealed a serious flaw in my character; 2) I was now in such emotional turmoil as to be unfit to be a teacher; 3) Harvard had only a limited capital of good will with the public and could not afford to spend it on such cases as mine.
When, on another occasion, Bundy, was told that R.H. Tawney and T.S. Ashton of the London School of Economics knew about my case and were disappointed in Harvard’s handling of it, he became angry that I was “publicizing” my difficulties while he was trying to handle them quietly. He was told that it was not I who had written to Tawney and Ashton, but members of the Harvard faculty who were inquiring about the possibility of a job for me in England.
In the meantime, Mark De Wolfe Howe of the Harvard Law School, whom I had never met but to whom I was sent by Howard Mumford Jones (I met him also for the first time during these events), was meeting with other members of the faculty and with Dean Bundy in an effort to change the requirement that I name names. I have a letter from Donald C. McKay of the history department, written from Stresa, Italy, June 4, 1954, saying:
I certainly don’t want to add another burden to your already difficult situation, but if you feel like writing me a word about developments, I should deeply like to have it. I am particularly anxious to know how Mark Howe gets on with the program he had outlined to both of us. I am also writing Mac Bundy some further thoughts I have had since I left….
Meanwhile please be assured, Sig, that your friends are going to understand perfectly whichever course your conscience tells you that you must take. These are problems that lie in the grays and not in the black and whites, and I am afraid any final decision you make is going to be very difficult….
The “program” of Mark Howe and the “final decision” of my own to which Professor McKay referred was a plan devised by Professor Howe, after discussion with other faculty members. I would agree to go before the FBI to answer questions about myself but not about others. Professor Howe hoped that if I would demonstrate that I was willing to run the risk of speaking about myself, President Pusey and Dean Bundy would see that they had no right to insist that I speak about others as well. At the very least, some members of the Harvard governing boards might, as a result of that demonstration, be persuaded to press for a change in the policy of Bundy and Pusey. And so I agreed in early June 1954 to speak to the FBI about myself alone.
I remember two interviews, both of them recorded. At the first, the two FBI agents made it clear that I could not lay down any conditions for the interview. I would have to decide which questions I would not answer, and take responsibility for refusing. When we came to the end of the interview, I was warned that I faced serious danger by my refusal to cooperate fully and that I had better be prepared at the next session to discuss others as well as myself. I talked over what had happened with Professor Cole and with Professor Frederick Merk of the history department. On the morning of the second interview I received a telephone call from Professor Cole saying that he and Professor Merk wanted me to tell the FBI that they would hold themselves available that afternoon and were prepared to come to the FBI office as character witnesses on my behalf. I can still hear Professor Cole, stammering a bit—he was always embarrassed by a display of emotion—saying, “We don’t know if it will do any good, but maybe it will ease the tension.” When I reported this to the two FBI agents, they replied lightly that it would not be necessary, that they knew how to reach Cole and Merk, and that, besides, there were only a few loose ends left to be tidied up.
I do not, of course, remember all that we talked about in those interviews. But I still have a sheet of paper on which I typed some examples of the “derogatory information” in my FBI dossier about which I was interrogated:
Q. Shortly after your arrival in Detroit in the summer of 1943, did you not attend an Institute on Inter-racial Relations? [I arrived in Detroit, to work in the Education Department of the UAW-CIO, on June 22, 1943, the day the great race riot began. I attended many conferences on inter-racial relations.]
Q. Were you active in the affairs of the American Jewish Congress? [I wrote a few short articles on the history of Jews in the United States for The Congress Voice, the publication of the American Jewish Congress in Detroit.]
Q. In the winter of 1946, you were seen at a meeting in the YWCA in Detroit against the poll tax. Were you there? [I was. The meeting was addressed by Mrs. Virginia Durr, of the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax, wife of Clifford Durr of the Federal Communications Commission and sister of Mr. Justice Hugo L. Black of the Supreme Court.]
Q. In August 1948 you were seen at a picnic just outside Detroit sponsored by the Michigan edition of the Daily Worker. Is that correct? [The picnic had not been sponsored by the Daily Worker. It had been sponsored by the Progressive Party, which was supporting the presidential candidacy of Henry A. Wallace, and the two speakers were US Senator Glen Taylor, Wallace’s running-mate, and Professor John Ciardi, then of Harvard.]
After my second and final interview with the FBI, I met, late in the afternoon, with President Pusey in his office in Massachusetts Hall. Professor Howe, Professor Helen Cam of the history department, and others had urged Pusey to hear my side of the story, especially since I had shown my willingness to talk to the FBI about myself. Not that Professor Howe expected much to happen as a result of such an interview. I have a copy of a letter I wrote to a friend on June 2, 1954:
I also have an opportunity to talk to Pusey this Thursday, but I have been warned by Mark Howe not to expect anything to come of that—it seems that he arranged earlier this year for Pusey to meet with [Professor Wendell] Furry,3 and, as he put it, never has he seen a colder, more formal, less sympathetic or understanding person than Pusey, despite all his Christian talk.
My talk with Pusey, like my talks with Bundy, was recorded. My recollection is that during the entire meeting, which lasted well over an hour, Pusey interrupted only twice: first to apologize for asking me to stop so that he could change the disc on the recording machine; then to ask me what country my father had been born in. When the meeting was over, he thanked me for having spoken so fully and frankly, and said that I would soon be hearing from him. I never did hear from him, and never saw him again until we met at Rockefeller University in the early 1970s at a conference on the political disruption of universities.
What would Professor Lipset have learned if he had pursued the facts about this “deviant” case? At the very least, some significant questions would have been raised about Harvard during the McCarthy period:
- How did the Harvard authorities get “derogatory information” about me and others? Was it volunteered by the FBI? Did Harvard request it from the FBI? What was the nature of the relationship between Harvard and the FBI in those years?
- Did the Harvard administration pass on this information to other universities? In my own case (and I know of at least a few others) I found that, one after another, promising possibilities for jobs collapsed after my experience at Harvard, although it never became a matter of public knowledge.
- How many faculty members were actually fired by Harvard or forced to resign? The cases of faculty members that we know about (like that of Professor Furry, for example) involved those who were also called before congressional committees. Was it Harvard’s policy—as is suggested by the example of this “deviant” case—to handle such cases differently from the way in which it handled cases of teachers not called before congressional committees? Was there, in effect, a “public” Harvard policy and a “private” Harvard policy?
How many people were refused appointments at Harvard because of “derogatory information” about them? And how many gave such information under the threat of losing prospective jobs?
Were graduate students asked about their political beliefs and associations? I know of one case in which a dean warned a graduate student that he would lose all chance of academic employment if he did not “cooperate fully” with the authorities, but I have no idea how widespread the practice may have been. Until we know that, how can we be sure what Harvard’s policy was?
What has happened to the recordings that Bundy and Pusey made of their discussions with me and of discussions about me—and possibly about others as well—with members of the faculty? Were they placed in the Harvard archives? Did Bundy and Pusey feel that they were their private possessions and remove them when they left office? Were they made available to the FBI or other investigating agencies?
Simply posing these questions suggests the possibility that what Professor Lipset leads us to believe was deviant, a departure from the norm, may in fact have been Harvard’s policy. It could be that more cases were treated as exceptions than were decided in accordance with the rule. (How can we know, since he apparently did not investigate the question?) Neither Professor Lipset nor anyone else can tell us what Harvard’s “policy” was unless he compares the disposition of the “exceptional” cases with the disposition of those on which the “policy” was presumably based. To admit that there were “some” deviant cases is merely disarming. What else would have happened if Professor Lipset had inquired into such cases? He would have found a good many men and women who did not think Harvard behaved so well in the face of McCarthyism and who fought for what most academicians thought Harvard really stood for—not only against the enemies outside the gates of the academy but against those already within them who insisted that teachers turn informers about the political beliefs of others.
These people asked no reward for what they did and, to this day, have not received the credit they deserve. Since Education and Politics at Harvard does not mention them, let me recall some of those who deserve to be remembered for what they did and for what they tried and failed to do: at Harvard University—Arthur H. Cole, Frederick Merk, Howard Mumford Jones, Donald C. McKay, David Owen, Helen M. Cam, Mark Howe, Harlow Shapley, Jacob Fine; at Jesus College, Cambridge—Charles Wilson and E.M.W. Tillyard; at the London School of Economics—H.L. Beales and R.H. Tawney; at Columbia University—Grayson Kirk, John Krout, Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Robert S. Lynd, Robert K. Merton, and David S. Taylor and Colston Warne; at Wellesley College—Leland H. Jenks; at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem—Yehoshua Arieli and Michael Evenari; at the Fund for the Advancement of Education of the Ford Foundation—John Weiss; at the Australian National University in Canberra—Noel Butlin; at the Institute for Advanced Study—Albert Einstein.
It is hard to look at what we once were and did, but it is more dangerous not to. Harvard will survive the truth about its leadership during the McCarthy period. It can even survive the perpetuation of a myth, but then it would not be the Harvard that deserves our respect. If Professor Lipset had taken as his motto not Scio—I know—but the proud motto of Fustel de Coulanges, Quaero—I search—he might have given us something more useful than this complacent, self-congratulatory chronicle.
April 28, 1977
Priorities for Action: Final Report of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education (McGraw-Hill, 1973), pp. 214, 216. ↩
Sponsored Research of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education (McGraw-Hill, 1975), p. 130. ↩
Furry, a member of the Harvard physics department, had been an “unfriendly” witness before the Jenner Committee and had been put on probation by Harvard. ↩