EXHIBIT, SYMPOSIUM AND VIDEO AT QUEENS COLLEGE
EXPLORE McCARTHY ERA ON CAMPUS
NEW YORK, September 5, 2003 -- Since 9/11, changes to core legal standards in the United States have led some to question whether the new laws are jeopardizing civil liberties and academic freedom, as occurred during the McCarthy era. This fall, Queens College will host a number of free public events—an exhibit, symposium and video—that revisit the McCarthy era and relate that period to the challenges of our own time.
From September 2 until October 18, an exhibit, “McCarthyism at Queens College, 1947–1955,” will be on display in the Barham Rotunda of the Benjamin Rosenthal Library at Queens College. The exhibit begins with the lesser-known history of community suspicion toward the college in its early years, fanned by the borough’s conservative political leadership, right-wing organizations, and local newspapers. The exhibit also documents the college’s own moves to restrict student speech and association in the postwar years, and its intimidation and dismissal of faculty who invoked their Fifth Amendment rights when brought before government inquiries. The exhibition closes with the college’s repudiation of its McCarthy-era actions.
On Wednesday, October 1, the college will host a symposium, “Civil Liberties at Queens College Violated, 1947–1955,” featuring scholars who will discuss McCarthyism and academic freedom. These include Ellen Schrecker, professor of history at Yeshiva University and author of No Ivory Tower, the definitive study of McCarthyism on college campuses; Alice Kessler-Harris, professor and chair of the History Department at Columbia University; Barbara Bowen, professor of English at Queens College and president of the Professional Staff Congress (Ameri-can Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO) and Bert Silverman, professor emeritus of economics at Hofstra University. Silverman was a student of Vera Shlakman, an assistant professor of economics at Queens College who was dismissed from her teaching position by the New York City Board of Higher Education when, in 1952, she refused to discuss her political affiliations before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. Chaired by Joshua Freeman, professor of history at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center, the symposium will begin at 11 am in Room 230, the Rosenthal Library auditorium at Queens College.
Finally, on Wednesday, October 8 at 7:30 pm, there will be a screening of a related video by independent filmmaker Sophie-Louise Ullman-Vidal. The video features interviews with fired Queens professors Oscar Shaftel and Vera Shlakman as well as others caught up in the government hearings and investigations of the period. This material is from a work in progress entitled Dreamers and Fighters: New York’s Teacher Purges. The video will be shown in the auditorium of Rosenthal Library at Queens College.
The “McCarthyism at Queens College” exhibition was curated by Dorothy Pita, professor emerita of education, and Lawrence Kaplan, professor emeritus of history at City College. Both were students at Queens College during the period portrayed. Drawing on the Queens College Archives and other archival sources, and with the assistance of designer Alice Sprintzen and Queens College archivist Stephen Barto, they have assembled a powerful display of photographs, original documents, news clippings, political cartoons, and other materials.
The events at Queens College will be followed by a related exhibition at City College, focused on the “Red Scare” between the two world wars. Entitled “Challenges to Free Speech and Academic Freedom at City College, 1931–1942,” it will be on display from October 22 until January 9, in the Cohen Library Atrium, City College, NAC Building, 138th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
Queens College is located at 65-30 Kissena Boulevard in Flushing.