AAUP Honors Harry Keyishian for His Legal Fight 50 Years Ago

BY JOHN K. WILSON

Harry Keyishian was a special honoree at the AAUP’s annual awards luncheon today ‘for his courage, integrity, and unstinting commitment to academic freedom.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, which established academic freedom as “a special concern of the First Amendment.”

Keyishian was introduced by Marjorie Heins, the founding director of the Free Expression Policy Project, and the author of Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge, which discusses the Keyishian case in depth.

On Friday at a special AAUP annual conference session about his case, Harry Keyishian spoke modestly of his accomplishments, and played a 1987 interview he did with Bill Moyers (transcript here). Panelists who discussed the significance and fate of the Keyishian ruling included Heins, AAUP General Counsel Risa Lieberwitz, and myself.

Keyishian_2017At today’s awards luncheon, Keyishian modestly stated that the Civil Rights battles of the time “makes five professors in Buffalo not signing a piece of paper look risk averse.” He honored the other four professors who also refused to sign the loyalty oath: George Hochfield, Newton Garver, Ralph Maud and George Starbuck. Keyishian said, “It was tense, it was sometimes tough. But there was no question at all that we were the coolest people on campus.”

He thanked Charles Morgan, Jr., an AAUP attorney who “went back to the AAUP and said, let’s back these people.” And Keyishian particularly thanked Richard Lipsitz, the attorney who defended him, because “he developed a strategy of total victory” and “I can’t give him enough credit.” Keyishian also thanked “Justice William Brennan, who crafted a decision that brought new standards to academic freedom.”

Keyishian concluded, “Thanks for this organization, the AAUP, for formulating, protecting and defending professional standards and the precious tradition of academic freedom.” He declared, “Your work, our work, is more needed than ever.”

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