Delivered at the Opening Convocation of the College Year, University of Bridgeport, September 25, 1951
Republished in Vital Speeches, November 1, 1951 (pp. 61-64)
Never in the history of higher education have our colleges and universities faced such appalling responsibilities as they encounter in this autumn or 195l. Historically, the role of higher education has been comparatively simple and easily defined. Our colleges and universities were supposed to preserve, disseminate, and advance knowledge. Today our colleges still have these three tasks to perform, but in addition they find themselves confronted now with a new and awesome list of other responsibilities. The additional responsibilities result from the present state of world affairs and are due principally to the splitting of the atom and the threat of Communism.
Then to make matters worse for higher education, colleges and universities today are on the verge of bankruptcy and under suspicion. They are having their own private depression in the midst of the greatest prosperity boom in the nation's history. College enrollments have decreased, faculties have been decimated, incomes are down, salaries and costs are up, and building restrictions are imposed. At the same time, misguided zealots shout "Communist" at every college professor who ventures a new idea or selects a different text book, pressure groups issue blanket condemnations of new curriculum developments, and State Legislatures conduct investigations about subversive campus activities.
Freedom of thought and expression imply criticism and criticism is seldom popular; it is especially unpopular in times national peril. However, independent and critical thinking is probably needed more in a time of crisis than at any other time.
These are days of crises and on every hand we see numerous evidences of attempts to curb freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Throughout the country we hear charges of "Communist" and "subversive" hurled at people who might disagree with the prevailing trend of thought. Responsible citizens have become victims of smear tactics, character assassins, and guilt by association. People are becoming fearful and timid. Social scientists have to be careful in their research work or in announcing their findings, and well qualified citizens hesitate to risk their reputations in government service.
Dr. Robert M. Hutchins, former chancellor of the University of Chicago, says that even he, who has certainly never tried to be a conformist, has been so intimidated of the guilt association charges, that he refuses to join any organization, even one whose sole objective is merely to preserve and perpetuate Mothers' Day in America.
No doubt all of you recall the incident in Madison, Wisconsin, last Fourth of July, when American citizens were afraid to say they believed in the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. One hundred and twelve people were asked to sign a petition that contained nothing except quotations from these two immortal documents, and one hundred and eleven refused to sign the paper. Most refused because they were afraid it was some kind of subversive document and thought that if they signed it they would be called Communists.
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