McCarthyism and Red Star return

In the first public response of SRJC teachers who were “red starred” in Spring 2005, historian Ellen Schrecker and four instructors addressed a diverse crowd at Newman Auditorium on the evening of Oct. 17. The auditorium was nearly full, and it bustled with excitement, everyone anticipating the long-awaited response from the faculty.

The lecture titled “McCarthyism, Higher Education, and the New Assault on Academic Freedom” was presented by Schrecker, author of “Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America.” She addressed the similarities of “McCarthyism era” tactics and the methods employed in the “Red Star” incident. The teachers who made brief comments were Joyce Johnson, Terry Mulcaire, Martin Bennett and Michael Aparicio. Members of the campus Republican club posted flyers on the office doors of 10 SRJC teachers on Feb. 24. The flyers had a section 51530 of the Education Code, which outlaws the teaching of communism.

In her lecture, Schrecker contended that many are aware of the effects of McCarthyism during the 1950s, however, few realize its impact in the arena of higher education. “During the 1950s, the U.S. State Department called teachers to question them about their political views and affiliations,”Schrecker said. “If communism was found in their background, the universities often blacklisted them.”

Schrecker pointed out that the “Red Star” incident did not mirror the events that took place in the 1950s, but were similar in the sense that it was not directed against their political extracurricular activities but against their core academic work – their research and their teaching.

Schrecker went on to address the current Academic Bill of Rights (ABR) movement, started by former communist David Horowitz.

“There is a right wing Zionist connection to the new attack on university faculty,” she said, speaking of Horowitz’s Jewish heritage. “But I must admit, their rhetoric is brilliant.”

After her main address, each of the four teachers spoke for about 10 minutes. Philosophy professor Michael Aparicio observed three similarities between McCarthyism and the “Red Star” incident: portraying educators as a threat, disregarding the need for evidence, and threatening the livelihood of those who are attacked.

“I have come to suspect that the SRJC Republican president (Molly McPherson) was on a fishing expedition…She doesn’t seem to realize that her threat was reaching for a shot gun instead of a fishing pole,” Aparicio said.

Martin Bennett explained his view of professionalism in the classroom, noting that it requires a diversity of views. He then lashed out against the Republican Club. “These people are sorely lacking the necessity to be educated citizens, that is, historical context,” Bennett said. “They used the anti-communism tactics of the extreme right.”

The event was co-sponsored by the SRJC Arts and Lectures Series, the Sonoma County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a local union chapter, SRJC/CFT Local 1946.

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