THE STUDENTS ANSWERED THAT—4000 of them from City College who walked out of classes on April 23rd, on strike for the reinstatement of academic freedom and their suspended teachers. Many thousands from other colleges.
There was a tradition at City College. Academic freedom was no hollow slogan. In the memory of four generations of students the word had meant dismissal of students, confiscation of student papers and magazines, suppression of student clubs. For 15 years the three R’s—Robinson, Reaction and Retrenchment, rode high and mighty through the college halls. It was only in 1938 that an outraged public and student opinion forced the dismissal of President Robinson.
The class of 1926 remembered when every issue of the student newspaper appeared with one news column draped in black, the legend reading: “The Campus may make no further reference in its columns to a certain course at the college”—forbidden to discuss the Military Science Department.
Students remembered when a college publication was suppressed because it refused to accept a faculty adviser who was “to reject editorial comment that is directed against any administrative officer”.
The class of 1932 remembered the first time police ever appeared on the college grounds—to break up a student meeting protesting the dismissal of Oakley Johnson. The meeting was dispersed and 10 students arrested and suspended.
The class of 1933 remembered the day when President Robinson invited a group of Italian fascist student emissaries to a reception in the Great Hall. When the students organized a meeting in protest, 21 were expelled and the Student Council suspended.
Indeed, academic freedom at City College has never been an abstraction. It has been something to believe in, something to fight for. In those books that the National Association of Manufacturers and the Rapp-Couderts have been trying to censor and to suppress, the students read the words of Wendell Phillips and found them good.
“No matter whose the lips that would speak, they must be free and ungagged. The community which does not protect the humblest and most hated member in the free utterance of his opinion, no matter how false or hateful, is only a gang of slaves. If there is anything in the university that can’t stand discussion, let it crack.”