Monday, May 28, 2012

Are you dedicated to your principles? The story of Stanley Moore

One day on the radio, Colin Cowherd was discussing a rumor that the Yankees were for sale. Cowherd noted that in the end, everything has its price. Perhaps not everything, but it's surprising to realize what we will do for financial or other gain, no matter how "principled" we may believe that we are. It should be noted that I personally believe in the concept of original sin, but even if you don't, you'll probably admit that at least some people will sell themselves out. I don't know if this story is true, but it illustrates the point:

At a dinner party one night, a drunk Churchill asked an attractive woman whether she would sleep with him for a million pounds. “Maybe,” the woman said coyly. “Would you sleep with me for one pound?” Churchill then asked. “Of course not, what kind of woman do you think I am?” the woman responded indignantly. “Madam, we’ve already established what kind of woman you are,” said Churchill, “now we’re just negotiating the price.”

Which brings me to Stanley Moore.

As a Reed College student, I had certainly heard of former Professor Stanley Moore. To Reed's credit, it didn't hush up the story - in fact, I was a student at the college when it formally apologized to Moore.

Why did Reed College apologize? Because it fired Moore during the McCarthy era. While many good people did bad things during the McCarthy era, this is especially troubling for a place such as Reed College. In fact, Reed's firing of Stanley Moore can be compared to the Los Angeles Lakers losing in the second round of the NBA playoffs two years in a row - excusable for others, but inexcusable for the Lakers, or Reed.

Here is the story of Stanley Moore, courtesy the Oregon Historical Society:

[T]he House Un-Americans Activities Committee (HUAC)...sought to expose American communists throughout the 1950s, and in 1954 Moore was subpoenaed along with other suspected leftists. In a public hearing in Portland, Moore pled the Fifth Amendment when queried by the committee about his political beliefs. His testimony resulted in his suspension from the Reed faculty. Moore criticized McCarthyism in an open letter to the public by arguing that academic independence and tenure should protect his job: “It is an abuse of power for an employer to question an employee about his politics. It is a travesty of justice to do so in an atmosphere created by pressure from influential demagogues.” Thanks to the support of his colleagues and students, the principle of academic freedom endured “the most definitive test during the entire McCarthy era.”

In August 1954, the college trustees held a hearing to decide Moore's fate. Under pressure from the media and the generally conservative population of Portland to punish Moore, the trustees contended that his refusal to answer charges amounted to professional misconduct. Moore replied that academic freedom meant employment criteria based on professional ability, not personal political beliefs. Moore contended that his promotions and reputation as a scholar and teacher proved he was a competent professor.

As he expected, Moore won the argument but lost his job.

After a period of Churchill-like wilderness years, Moore eventually joined the faculty at the University of California, San Diego. The university web site records the coda to the story of Moore:

Moore waited 24 years to surprise both sides by telling the Oregonian in 1978 that he had been a member of the Communist party when he came to Reed but that he had left it before the HUAC hearings began. While still describing himself as a Marxist (albeit a "more critical one") he said he quit the party 18 months before the HUAC hearings because, "I couldn't stomach the American organization's kowtowing to Moscow on the so-called 'doctor's plot,' which had been announced in January 1953 and was declared a 'fabrication' shortly after Stalin's death just two months later."

Thus, had Moore been willing to accept the authority of his interrogators, he could have passed the trustees' political test. That is, he could have told them, truthfully, that he was not now a Communist. But as he stated at the time, he had decided not to do so in order to help Reed defend its historical attachment to academic freedom "against the fickle tides" of public opinion.

So if Stanley Moore had just done what Lucille Ball did, he might have gotten off the hook. But he didn't.

Would I be willing to do that? Or, since I'm not a Marxist, would I be willing to do what Daniel did in Daniel chapter 6?
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