The Frederic Ewen Center
for Academic Freedom
The City University Of New York
Oral History Project
January, 29, 1990
The years between 1935 and 1955 began with a period of tremendous political ferment on American campuses, quite comparable to the period of the late 1960's, only to end in a political ice age. During this time, hundreds of progressive academicians were driven from colleges, universities, and public schools because of their political beliefs.
The purpose of the Oral History Project is to interview and transcribe those surviving academicians victimized during this period as quickly as possible, and to collect and transcribe those interviews from victims, alive or deceased, that are stored in other collections. The immediate focus of this project will be all faculty and teachers from greater New York area schools.
The goal of the Oral History Project is first to provide a human record of an important and tragic period in American history, helping insure that the Center serves as a reminder of how fragile academic freedom can be. Secondly, it should provide a body of material documenting the persecution of academicians and suppression of academic freedom in the 1930's, 40's and 50's. Lastly it should provide a body of material on dissent, political thought, progressive movements, unionization, etc. on American campuses and schools in the 1930's-50's, and otherwise enable the Center to become a focus of research on this period.
The First Step:
Develop a list of surviving participants and their addresses.
A committee was formed to provide the names and addresses of the City University and public school system victims. They are:
Brooklyn College list - Miriam Gideon
City College list - Morris U. Schappes
Other branches and public schools - Henry Foner
All have completed their lists, in addition, the Project Director will search for Columbia, NYU, and other victims.
Of the 57 academicians from greater New York for whom we have addresses, approximately 49 have never been interviewed. There are four in particular we should interview immediately, each Brooklyn College veterans of the Rapp-Coudert investigation. An intensive effort to interview these 46 will probably take four to five months, and this process will certainly produce more names and addresses.
The Second Step:
Develop a list of libraries- archives, etc. who might have interviews with NYC victims.
There are a wealth of tapes, particularly at Columbia University, with such interviews. In most cases the tapes will not have been transcribed and the Oral History Project will have to arrange the transcription. The following people have been or might be particularly helpful in locating or arranging the acquisition of the interviews:
Ron Greenly - Columbia University Library
The Third Step:
Ellen Schreeker - author of No Ivory Tower
Stuart Ewen - Hunter College
Steve Leberstein - Center for Worker Education
Debra Burnhardt - Wagner 'Archives, NYU Library
David Holmes - author of Stalking the Academic Communist
Develop a standard: work progress sheet, Catalog form, legal agreement,
and participant background sheet. (see samples)
The Fourth Step:
An introductory letter along with an announcement of the Oral History Project signed by an appropriate Brooklyn College person, will be mailed to the list of victims inviting them to participate in the Project:
The Fifth Step:
The interviewer will contact the participants by phone and arrange a preliminary meeting, if necessary. In addition the interviewer will arrange for a mutually convenient time to hold a 1 - 2 hour session. At this session, the participant can sign the legal agreement, and if need be, another session can be arranged.
The Sixth Step:
Immediately after the interview, the interviewer will duplicate the tapes and fill out all standard forms. A copy of the tapes will be sent to a transcription service. Upon return a copy of the transcription will be sent to the interviewee for their approval, and then be returned to the transcription service for final corrections. One final, corrected copy will sent to the participant, another will be stored in the Center.
The Seventh Step:
A letter as well as an announcement will be sent to those institutions that have tapes or those individuals that might know where some are located and would be willing to help. After tapes are located and their desirability assessed, the Director will then negotiate with the institutions for the tapes. The tapes will then be transcribed and corrected, and one copy will be sent to the participating institution and another copy stored in the Center.
The Eighth Step:
At the end of two months, the Directors and advisors will review the project in order to decide whether or not to consider other alternatives, such as adding interviewers, equipment, or enlarge the scope of the project.
Room #402 will be quite adequate for the Oral History Project and the
beginning of the Center. The room should contain: one desk, one work table,
two incandescent table top lamps, one file cabinet, two shelving units,
two chairs, one phone with a dedicated line.
Equipment Requirements: The Project has already purchased high-quality
recording and duplicating equipment necessary for immediate interviewing.
The Project has purchased: one Sony portable tape recorder, one Sony duplicating
machine, two Sony clip-on microphones, all for approximately $850.
The project might possibly require part-time interviewing help, though
this will be examined in more detail in the next advisory review. The
50 participants already identified will take up to four months to interview,
and it is a distinct possibility that in that interview process an additional
50 or more will be added to the list.
Video recording is an inexpensive medium that is directly transferable and usable on any modern television. More than the telephone, it is truly the "next best thing to being there", and video taped interviews would be an invaluable resource to both scholars and students. While many might find the thought of video recording uncomfortable, the current equipment is so small, easy to use, and discreet, that it should be no less intrusive and intimidating than a tape recorder. Naturally only those who wish to be video taped would be taped, and in most cases only excerpts of the interview would be video taped so that researchers would get a flavor of what the persons are like. The purchase of a small camcorder ($1500) and tapes is quite small compared to the value it would give to the project.
April 25, 2004