Good-bye Letter to Students


          Professor Slochower's letter to his students appeared in the Brooklyn College student newspaper, The Kingsman in October 1952; a month later The Nation published excerpts from this letter. His letter is reproduced below in its entirety. Following the letter are the introduction and conclusion that framed Professor Slochower's letter in The Nation.

          My sudden dismissal will be a shock to the thousands of students I have had. in some 27 years of teaching. It has come unexpectedly to me as well, and I am still at a loss to understand wherein I was considered to be a danger to my students. This much is clear: I was not dismissed for anything I had done. I was not charged with having held un-American views. I was sacrificed to a formula, rigidly and mechanically applied.

          Yet, behind the formula stand sinister powers very busy exploiting the apathy or the delirium of the hour. As I view the whole procedure, including the Board's perfunctory "hearing," I cannot but conclude that neither President Gideonse, nor the Board members are the active agents. For, I recognized a great fear, the fear that they might be regarded as standing left of Chiang Kai-Shek, that is to say, as being "reds." They could not summon up the courage to greet the simple request I made to give me a hearing and a trial at which I would be ready to answer any and all questions. No, they hid behind a mechanical formula, the fact that I invoked the 5th Amendment for the period of the 1930's.

          Of course, I could have saved my job. I was advised by some people who value comfort above human dignity to answer all questions, that is, to "name names," and thus become one of the heroes of our time. This I could not do, even if I were in a position to have certain knowledge of "Who's Who" back in the thirties. I could not contribute towards wrecking the lives of people who may be innocent and decent. Such an action would have indeed incriminated me, I couldn't have looked you, my students, nor any decent person, in the face. I was advised to recant any opinions I ever held that are today out of vogue. This I could not do, for it would have meant the repudiation of the anti-Fascist stand I took during the thirties. I still believe that fascism was then a menace. And the menace is still with us.

          During the last 10 days, I have lived perhaps 10 years, died perhaps 10 deaths. But now, I feel freer and cleaner, as though I were reborn. For I stood by the principles which represent my whole life. Of course, I am concerned about how I am to make a living now, but my regret is not so much that I lost my $8,200 position. I'll manage somehow with less. What I regret most deeply is not being able to be with you, my students. Doubtless, you have gotten something from me. But it is I who have gotten more from you, your youthful, roughly honest and non-formalistic approach. You will continue cannot but continue to be young in this sense, and after you, there will be others, and still others.

          This is not a farewell. I am not thinking of the possibility that the courts will reverse the present outrageous ruling. I have something more basic in mind. The critical and spiritual approach which I tried to communicate to you is not merely mine. It stems from, and springs up, wherever there is a genuine search for what may liberate the powers which slumber in man. They lie hidden in all, particularly in those who are young of spirit. It has ever been the despair of the dark forces that no matter how much they destroy, there ever circulates new, fresh blood, as Mephistopheles puts it in Goethe's Faust. The more raw, the more monstrous or the more formalistic these forces operate, the more they help to awaken the living conscience and power of man. This ever-renewed conscience of the young is guarantee that such outrage, whether manifested in open terror or hidden behind a rigidly applied formula, will not remain victorious. I am 52 years old, but somehow I feel much younger now after what has happened. In this sense as well, I shall stay with you,

As ever,

Harry Slochower

Introduction and Conclusion Framing the Letter in The Nation

Dear Sirs:   Dr. Harry Slochower is one of three professors recently dismissed from the tax-supported municipal colleges of New York in this instance Brooklyn College for their refusal to answer questions before the McCarran committee hearing on their political beliefs and associations. The following "farewell note" to his students was originally published in the Brooklyn College paper, the Kingsman, of October 10.

<Professor Slochower's letter appeared here. >

I hope you can publish the letter or portions of it, as I am sure many of your readers will be interested.