Press enter after choosing selection

Editorial On Faculty Trio Criticized

Editorial On Faculty Trio Criticized image
Parent Issue
Copyright Protected
Rights Held By
Donated by the Ann Arbor News. © The Ann Arbor News.
Letter to the Editor
OCR Text

Reader’s Viewpoint

Editorial On Faculty Trio Criticized

Editor, Ann Arbor News: Your recent editorial pertaining to the suspended faculty members at the University of Michigan did much to further obscure the important question at issue. In indicating that qualifications for academic position include personal integrity, honesty and candor, there is a tacit suggestion that those who fail to answer the committee may lack these qualifications. It seems to me grossly unfair to implant this suspicion in the mind of the reading public, particularly since there are perfectly valid reasons for which answers were with-held from the investigating sub-committee — reasons made public to the academic community and all others who wished to attend the discussions at which the witnesses explained their position.

To "leave aside" the question of the First Amendment is to discard the very basis upon which the suspended faculty members have taken a moral stand. There is no doubt that those involved would have preferred to stand exclusively upon the First Amendment, but such a stand was effectively precluded at the beginning of the hearings by a pronouncement made by the committee chairman to the effect that the use of the First Amendment would not be recognized by the committee.

The academic senate of the University of Michigan last year took issue with that section of the report issued by the Association of American Universities which chose to place upon those members of university faculties who invoked the Fifth Amendment before congressional committees a "heavy burden of proof" to clear themselves of the aspersions cast upon their-fitness to be members of the academic community. In rejecting this clause the faculty of the University of Michigan clearly recognized the possibility that perfectly ethical reasons may engender a refusal to answer questions placed by the congressional group.

There is no contradiction between the use of the First Amendment as a basis for refusal to testify and the general position taken by our faculty that a faculty member does not have “a general right to silence." A faculty member does not have a general right to silence, any more than any other citizen, when asked legitimate questions by a legally constituted congressional committee. But it is the opinion of the witnesses, as well as of many others of the Michigan faculty, that the First Amendment provides for the sanctity, arid anonymity if desired, of one’s political opinions, and that therefore the rights guaranteed by this amendment supercede the requests of the committee. It is pertinent to recall that questions pertaining to subversive and illegal acts posed by the committee were answered by the witnesses.

Finally, it is unrealistic and unfair to consider the response of the witnesses to this committee without questioning the actual motives of this committee as distinct from its avowed goals. It is not compatible with the avowed goals of the committee that the answers to all the questions put to the witnesses in public should already be known to the committee members. Nor that questions should persist for prolonged periods after it was sufficiently clear that answers would not be forthcoming to questions pertaining to political views and affiliations.

A viewer of the hearings at Lansing was left with the firm impression that the function of the committee in this instance was to procure the dismissal of the witnesses on the grounds of charges couched in the form of rhetorical questions. It is furthermore clear, that had the witnesses but supplied names of other persons assumed by the witnesses to be as innocent as they, they would not have been sub-poenaed for public appearance, their names would have remained anonymous, and as a consequence they would automatically have remained fit members of the academic community.

I cannot believe that you would consider that the issues involved are so trivial that he who gives names is a fit member of the faculty whereas he who does not engenders grave doubt about himself. Nor do I believe that you would accept a list of such names as a substitute for a recountal of the truth such as you request in your editorial. And yet, the committee is willing to settle for such an ignominious substitute and if the witnesses were to acquiesce in this their reputations would remain unblemished.

With respect to the witnesses’ past actions, these have been made fully public in meetings open to all interested faculty, in the case of at least two of the three members in question. These past actions were in fact not secret and, as I have suggested above, were known to the committee in the first place. The suspended faculty members, in meeting with their peers, have well met the criteria of personal integrity, honesty and candor by submitting their previous political activities and private thoughts to their colleagues in answers which transcended those required to answer charges of subversion or disloyalty.

The doubts in the minds of tax-paying citizens are doubts without facts— doubts abetted by your editorial. I respectfully suggest that it is your duty to use your accumulated experience and perspicacity to make some of that which I bring to your attention in this letter clear to the reading public, so that certain of these doubts may be allayed if not dispelled. Ideals must indeed be defended with facts.

Sincerely yours,

George G. Laties

Asst. Prof. Botany

(Editor’s Note — This letter is much longer than the limit prescribed by The News, but is used in its entirety because of the seriousness of the case on the campus. Any future letters must be limited to the usual 300 words).