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The AAUP, Academic Freedom, and the Cold War

By Phillip Deery

The Cold War was a tough time for the American Association of University Professors. Unlike today, its dual roles of white-collar union and professional association did not comfortably coexist. Indeed, at key moments, the AAUP’s readiness to defend members’ interests was noticeably absent. This paper will examine one instance when academic freedom was breached, but the organization remained silent. It will focus less on the AAUP than on the academic freedom case itself; the AAUP entered the story, and partially redeemed itself, five years later when it commenced an investigation, issued a report, and subsequently imposed a censure.

In April 1951, a senior academic at New York University was dismissed. Professor Lyman Richard (“Dick”) Bradley had arrived at NYU in 1924 from Harvard University. He completed his PhD in 1930, became treasurer of the Modern Language Association (MLA) in 1931, and became chair of the Department of German in 1942. His deep knowledge of German literature became apparent in an erudite article, “Literary Trends under Hitler,” published in 1944. By the time he appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1946, the modest, soft-spoken Bradley was highly respected, long-serving, and tenured. That HUAC appearance, which triggered a chain of events that culminated in his dismissal five years later, had nothing to do with his academic position.

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Phillip Deery teaches American history and Cold War history at Victoria University, Melbourne. In 2009 he was awarded a fellowship at the Frederic Ewen Academic Freedom Center at New York University, where he conducted research for this article. He has published widely on the early Cold War and is currently completing a co-authored book on Cold War espionage to be published in 2010.

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