Sociology Academic Freedom - the Bertrand Russell case

Discussion in 'Sociology' started by amantine, Sep 3, 2004.

  1. amantine

    amantine Premium Member

    Previously posted at ATS in thread 76175.

    In this thread I'm going to write a bit about a case in American history where academic freedom was violated gravely. This thread is based on this text, although I have it in a book:

    How Bertrand Russell was prevented from teaching at the college of the city of New York (PDF)

    Bertrand Russell was one of the great philosophers of the 20th century. He had two sides: the mathematician dealing with logic and set theory and a popular author of essays about a large number of subjects. He got a Nobel Prize of literature for the latter. Bertrand Russell was an atheist and had a view of marriage and sex that is pretty normal today. Divorce should be possible with consent from both parties. Premarital sex was no problem for him, as long as it was done safely and no unwanted children were the result. Children should not be lied to about sex. He also thought the current idea about adultery should be rethought, because they were not promoting happiness.

    His views were respected and sometimes accepted in the academic world. However, the uneducated masses of 1940 didn't like his views. This got him into a lot of trouble.

    Russell was hired to become a teacher of the philosophy of mathematics at the college of the city of New York. He taught the following classes
    • Philosophy 13: A study of modern concepts of logic and of its relation to science, mathematics, and philosophy.
    • Philosophy 24B: A study of the problems in the foundations of mathematics.
    • Philosophy 27: The relations of pure to applied sciences and the reciprocal
      influence of metaphysics and scientific theories.

    And so the attacks on Russell started. This one is pretty polite. He was called a 'dog', a 'bum', a 'communist' and a 'fascist' later on. Some people didn't like his views and misrepresented his views to the general public. He was said to promote adultery, rape, public nudity and homosexualism. Anyone that has read his work knows this is not true. But even if it was so, he was not teaching those opinions. He was teaching the philosophy of mathematics.

    Because the board of education stood by its decision, his opponents went the court. Both the board and Russell were not allowed to defend themselves. The judge McGeehan decided that Russell was to be fired from the college and that the board members that stood by him were to be replaced by more moral people. The decision was not legal and misrepresented Russell's views. You can read the entire text of the court decision in the PDF file.

    The academic world was outraged and from this outrage comes for example Einstein's famous text:

    All attempts to reverse the decision were stopped by judge McGeehan and the mayor of New York. Russell was fired and the board members replaced. His courses were scrapped from the lesson program and he was forbidden to ever teach at the college again:

    This case shows what can happen when academic freedom is violated. People with different opinions are stopped from teaching, just because the majority doesn't like the way it thinks the person's opinions are. Progress comes from discussion and a conflict between different opinions, not by suppressing them. But this was exactly what happened. Let this case be a warning for the future, especially at the moment when politics become more and more involved in education. Let this be a warning.
  2. Cinderloft

    Cinderloft Premium Member

    Have you ever heard of Henry Makow, Ph.D? He is the creator of the board game Scruples. He maintains a website: (He is Canadian.)

    Henry had a similar problem at the University of Winnipeg, where he was forced out due to his teaching about family issues and feminism.

    Quite an interesting site and read.

  3. Bleys

    Bleys Phoenix Takes Flight Staff Member

    Outstanding post there amantine!

    I'm trying to picture how the ideas Russell promoted would have played to students of the 40s - shock and disgust OR genuine interest. And what a current academic taboo would be today.

    I think it would have to be "independent thought." I don't think I have attended a class in years where my opinions or my judgement weren't called into question, ridiculed or punished. It seems that the university experience is no longer a place to grow, learn and question - but more of a this is the way it is, now move on.

    I think I would have enjoyed Russell's class - it's too bad there are not more academics like him today.
  4. Waxy cheesecake

    Waxy cheesecake Premium Member

    :lol::lol::lol::lol:Because, adultery doesn't promote happiness.:lol::lol::lol::lol:
    Even if I don't agree with his opinions, he shouldn't have been shunned from teaching espically when he wasn't teaching about his papers.

    [Edited on 28-11-2004 by Waxy cheesecake]
  5. SubVolitional

    SubVolitional Member

    Very interesting, Amantine, and though it is a very unfortunate I am not surprised how vehemently the masses will cling to preconcieved morals and accepted values as well as the extensive network in place to ensure the perpetuation of said behavioral models as well the never-ending debate on its deviances.....ever listen to George Bush talk....too many connotative words like "evil" and "mass destruction"...maybe a topic better suited for ATS