Quincy Wright on Academic Freedom and “Americanism”



Quincy Wright, Source: University of Chicago

Quincy Wright (1890-1970) served as the 20th president of the AAUP from 1944 to 1946. At the time of his election to the presidency, Wright had already served for almost two decades on Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, and he would continue to serve on the committee for another decade. His thirty years of membership on Committee A are among the longest in the history of the AAUP. Wright was a political scientist who spent most of his career at the University of Chicago. He studied international law and had a particular interest in war and its prevention. His main book, A Study of War, was published in 1942. He served as an adviser to the Nuremberg trials and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his academic work.

Although the AAUP failed to publish investigative reports of faculty dismissals during the McCarthy era, the Association publicly condemned such dismissals in principle throughout that period. In 1947 Committee A took the unusual step of addressing the question of faculty dismissals because of membership in the Communist party before an actual case had been reported to it. Beginning with the observation of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure that “[t]he college or university teacher is a citizen, a member of a learned profession, and an officer of an educational institution,” Committee A pointed out that a professor has “the right to be a Communist as long as other citizens have that right—as long, that is, as membership in the Communist party is legal,” which, the committee noted, it was. It added that:

This Association cannot presume to declare that [a professor] living in the United States, and subject to its constitution and laws, is by the fact of membership in the Communist party guilty of criminal conspiracy, treason, or the advocacy of the violent overthrow of the government when neither the legislatures of the several states, the Congress of the United States, nor the courts have ever so declared. Certainly, the administrations of our colleges and universities should not be expected to assume the functions of legislatures and courts, nor should the American Association of University Professors condone their assumption of legislative and judicial functions.

The position taken by Committee A was neither unanimously held among its members nor unanimously endorsed by the members of the Association. However, Wright was among its strongest proponents and publicly defended it. He served on an ad hoc committee investigating the loyalty oath controversy at the University of California, the report of which, however, was never published by the Association’s General Secretary Ralph E. Himstead. The national office’s difficulties in handling the investigation of cases during the McCarthy Era have been the subject of detailed study by historians, including Ellen Schrecker and Walter Metzger.

Following his retirement from the University of Chicago, Wright continued to contribute to the work of the AAUP. Most notably, he is one of the authors of the 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings, which, like the 1940 Statement, was jointly formulated with the Association of American Colleges.

Wright frequently spoke on the relationship between academic freedom and international relations. In 1949 he gave an address to the AAUP at the Ohio State University, titled “The Citizen’s Stake in Academic Freedom,” which concluded with the following observations:

In my state of Illinois some bills have been introduced in the Legislature to prevent teaching by people who belong to organizations vaguely described as subversive or as communist-front organizations. The author of these bills has been described as a very honest man, with very sincere convictions, whose views are, however, somewhat narrow. We have all met honest citizens of this country who have rather narrow conceptions of Americanism. I had a discussion with such a gentleman recently. There were a lot of people in America who were not Americans in his view, perhaps somewhere between a half and two-thirds of the population. It is a dangerous thing to have such a narrow conception of Americanism. It gets increasingly dangerous as the world contracts, as one finds oneself living in a world community where there are many people even more remote from that narrow conception of Americanism. That narrowness of vision is the thing which the university must combat. It must do it without sacrificing loyalties to ideas and to institutions which in our experience we have found adapted to our lives and our society. Can one be a loyal, patriotic American citizen and still recognize and appreciate the great varieties in our civilization and the greater varieties in the wider world of which we are a part? If the answer is no, there is little hope for a world society within which the problems of war and poverty might be solved. I believe that it is the task of the university to find an affirmative answer to that question. I do not see how an answer can be found except in a university which respects academic freedom.

One thought on “Quincy Wright on Academic Freedom and “Americanism”

  1. Perhaps, according to Schrecker, 100 professors were fired for refusing to name names. Hundreds more were fired under pressure arising from the FBI “Responsibilities Program.” I would humbly suggest the word “difficulties” in describing the national office’s response to this purse is an understatement. The word “cowardice” would, perhaps, be more accurate.

    I am glad Committee A in 1947 stepped up in defense or red-baiting. Note this was “McCarthyism before McCarthy. The senator began his campaign of vicious persecution in 1950 which lasted about four years before he was censured by the Senate in Dec. 1954. It is my understanding that the AAUP of the late 1940s then drifted into silence in the 1950s during this neo-fascist period of American history

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