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Records of the Edwin Berry Burgum Academic Freedom Case

Call Number



1934-2008, inclusive


New York University


4.25 Linear Feet in 1 record carton, 5 manuscript boxes, and 2 half manuscript boxes

Language of Materials

Materials are in English


Edwin Berry Burgum served as an associate professor of English at New York University (NYU) from 1924 to 1953. Spanning the period 1934 - 1961, the Records of the Edwin Berry Burgum Academic Freedom Case document Professor Burgum's academic career, his political involvement, and subsequent suspension and dismissal from NYU for refusing to answer U.S. Senate inquiries about his possible affiliation with the Communist Party. The collection includes records pertaining to the case from the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Vice Chancellor, the Office of the Dean of Washington Square College, and the Faculty Committee of the University Senate.

Biographical Note

Edwin Berry Burgum (1894 - 1979) was born in Concord, New Hampshire. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree at Dartmouth College (1915), a Master's from Harvard (1917), and his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois (1924). In 1924 Burgum began his career as an Associate Professor of English at New York University. In March 1927 he married Mildred Rabinowich.

His accomplishments included the publication of many books and articles in the field of literary criticism such as The Literary Career of Edward Bulwer Lord Lytton (1926), The New Criticism (1930), Ulysses and the Impasse of Individualism, (1941) and The Novel and the World's Dilemma, (1947). From 1936 to 1938 Burgum was an active contributor and editor of the Marxist quarterly Science and Society. Burgum served as president of the College Teachers' Union of New York City.

During the McCarthy era Burgum was one of five collegiate faculty members subpoenaed by the McCarran sub-committee of the Senate, organized to investigate communism in American schools. At a hearing in October 1952 Burgum invoked the First and Fifth amendments in response to Senate questions concerning his political beliefs. Arguing that his refusal to answer was a matter of principle, he was subsequently suspended from his teaching post. In April 1953, following his request for a hearing before the NYU Faculty Committee hearing, he was dismissed.

Over the next several years, the Committee for the Reinstatement of Professor Burgum, made up of lawyers, teachers and unions, continued to advocate on his behalf. The publication, Academic Freedom and New York University: the Case of Professor Edwin Berry Burgum, resulted from their efforts. Despite NYU's refusal to reinstate Burgum, he continued to publish and pursue his former interests. However, the outcome of his trial took a tragic toll on his family and led to a new career as a lay analyst and psychotherapist. In July of 1979 Burgum died after a long illness.

The following are excerpts from Senate Council minutes and provide a chronology of events:

Oct 27, 1952, p. 4

Associate Professor Edwin Berry Burgum has been suspended from University duty because of failure to answer questions concerning affiliation with the Communist Party put by a duly constituted committee of the U.S. Senate. He is entitled to faculty and Council hearings and is expected to request same.

Nov 10, 1952, p. 4

Report that Prof. Burgum had requested review of his case by a standing committee of faculty of Wash. Sq. College, but Senate had recommended to Council that a committee of professorial members of Senate be agency of review. Further report later.

Jan 24, 1952, p. 4

Voted to refer Burgum's case to a committee consisting of the professorial members of the University Senate for review and report prior to final action by the Council. Report from the Chancellor on recommendations of the Senate and of the faculty comm. of Washington Square College re. designation of a reviewing agency, and letter from Dean Pollock recommending dismissal of Burgum, included in the minutes. Burgum has appealed the decision to have the elected professorial members of the Senate constitute the committee to review his case. Appeal denied. First session of hearing to take place Jan. 19, 1953.

Jan 26, 1953, p. 2

University Senate Committee hearing in Burgum case has been postponed to Feb. 18 at Prof. Burgum's request, but every effort will be made to prevent further delay and resolve the issue.

Mar 9, 1953, p. 7

Faculty committee of Senate has devoted two weeks to hearing Prof. Burgum1s case and after another two weeks of study will present a report for Council review.

Apr 15, 1953, p. 5

A motion to ratify and confirm the suspension of Prof. Burgum and dismiss him from the faculty referred to Council for consideration. Resolution adopted re. the notification of Prof. Burgum and arrangement of a hearing.

Apr 21, 1953, p. 1

Hearing of Burgum case; stenotype record attached to file copy of minutes. Final action held over to later meeting

Apr 30, 1953, p. 1-3

Resolutions adopted stating the conclusions of the. Council re. the facts of the Burgum case, and re-solving : (1) that the existing suspension of Edwin Berry Burgum and his deprivation of privileges and duties as a member of the faculty and associate professor in Washington Square College be and the same hereby are ratified and confirmed ; and (2) that Edwin Berry Burgum be and he hereby is removed and dismissed from the faculty of New York University without salary for any period after the date of the adoption of these resolutions."

Apr 23, 1956, p. 3

Reported that American Association of University Professors has decided to investigate the cases of Bradley and Burgum at NYU. Chanc. stated that NYU will cooperated fully, although it believes the cases were handled fairly here.

Oct 28, 1957, p. 2

Reported that committee of the American Association of University Professors had rendered report on cases of two dismissed NYU professors in which they recommended procedural changes for such cases, but that Pres. Newsom had declined to support the proposals and regards the issues as closed.

Apr 28, 1958, p. 1

Reported that final AAUP comm. report on dismissal cases reflected slight shift favorable to University administration but was still critical at points and left the University open to censure by Association at large. Recommendations of report receiving consideration.

Sep 22, 1958, p. 3

Reported that AAUP had continued threat of censorship of NYU unless actions in Bradley and Burgum cases were amended, including payment of year's quittance salary to each. AAUP proposals had been referred to comm. of professorial members of University Senate for advice. Board members who had been party to original actions spoke against amending them.

Mar 23, 1959, p. 3

President spoke on criticisms by AAUP and their review by a comm. of University Senate with results ending to support the University's position. The Chairman expressed his conviction that University action in the two criticized cases were justifiable.

Apr 27, 1959, p. 1-2

Reported that AAUP had censured NYU for reasons arising from dismissals of Burgum and Bradley. Chairman characterized the action as unwarranted and demands for salary redress as untenable. President stated he anticipated no occasion for amending University action in either case.

Apr 24, 1961, p. 2

Reported AAUP had lifted its censure of NYU due to exemplary revision of University rules of tenure and regardless of the University's refusal to meet salary claims of two dismissed professors. Excerpts from the minutes of the Senate Council. Original in Box 6, folder 1.


Folders are arranged by topic and then are in rough chronological order.

The files are grouped into 4 series:

Missing Title

  1. I. Senate Faculty Committee
  2. II. Office of the Chancellor
  3. III. Office of the Vice Chancellor
  4. IV. Office of the Dean, Washington Square College

Scope and Content Note

The records of the Edwin Berry Burgum Academic Freedom Case contain administrative and faculty materials assembled between 1952 and 1961. The bulk of the material falls between the years 1952 and 1953, the period of Burgum's suspension and dismissal following his refusal to answer questions before the McCarran Committee of the United States Senate. The contents of the Burgum records consist primarily of administrative and council minutes; bound transcripts of the legal hearings between Burgum and New York University; internal administrative correspondence; correspondence with the American Association of University Professors; and exhibits of legal evidence presented at litigation by both Burgum and the administration under the direction of Thomas Clark Pollock, Dean of Washington Square College between 1947 and 1962. The exhibits contain a great deal of published material, such as books, newspapers, journals, court transcripts, articles and essays. They have been included with the other exhibit items within the Senate Faculty Committee series.

The Burgum records reflect the difficult debates and conflicts in American higher education during the Cold War period. Since the material is administrative in provenance, the collection's series offer insights not only into the scope and nature of the Burgum controversy, but also into the administration's strategies and actions.

While the suspension of Burgum by Chancellor Henry Townley Heald was rendered by executive fiat only hours after Burgum's appearance before the Senate subcommittee, neither the Chancellor nor the Vice Chancellor and Secretary, Harold Oliver Voorhis, played an active role in the subsequent hearing of charges against Burgum. The Chancellor's role was to formulate and state the administration's position. The Vice Chancellor acted as a public relations officer who helped to correspond with the University community, the American Association of University Professors and the public at large. Dean Thomas Clark Pollock of Washington Square College recommended the actual dismissal of Burgum and preferred the charges against him. Pollock played the most active role of any administrative official involved. To hear Dean Pollock's charges, the University Council assigned the case to the faculty members of the University Senate. A Senate Faculty Committee was formed consisting of one representative from each of the twelve divisions of the University. This committee had the obligation to render a decision on the Dean's charges, although it did not have the right of final judgment. That Executive Committee of the University Council held that right.

Central to the records, and of particular interest, is the Senate Faculty Committee series. Box 1 contains transcripts of the University's legal trial against Burgum, while boxes 3 and 4 contain trial exhibit material, including exhibits from Burgum's defense and Dean Pollock's prosecution. Also of interest is correspondence in the Office of the Chancellor series. It contains letters of support and protest from the general public, educators, students, alumni, and faculty, and a lengthy set of correspondence between New York University and the American Association of University Professors over AAUP's investigation and censure of the administration's action in the Burgum affair. A particularly valuable overview and critical analysis of the Burgum case can be found in the 1957 report of New York University's investigation committee on the Burgum and Bradley cases.

Access Restrictions

Administrative records and unpublished reports of New York University are closed for a period of 20 years from the date of their creation. Access to files spanning multiple years will be opened to researchers based on the date of the most recent materials. Board of Trustees records are closed for 35 years from the date of creation. Materials related to personnel, grievances, job and fellowship searches and applications, and all files that fall under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) are permanently restricted. Additional restrictions may apply to other materials in this collection. For questions regarding specific restrictions, please contact the University Archives.

Use Restrictions

Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by the creator are maintained by New York University. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from New York University Archives, (212) 998-2646,

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); The Records of the Edwin Berry Burgum Academic Freedom Case; RG 19.1; box number; folder number; New York University Archives, New York University Libraries.


The administrative records of the Edwin Berry Burgum academic freedom case were received by New York University Archives from the Office of the Secretary, Bobst Library, in June of 1984 upon recommendation by an ad hoc committee appointed by Chancellor L. Jay Oliva in September of that year. The records had been restricted and sealed prior to the committee's decision to make them available for research.

The Burgum records are closely related to the records of the Lyman R. Bradley academic freedom case (1924-1961); the two collections were formerly housed together and are similar in character and content. Oversized material has been removed from the collection and is noted in the separation sheet. There are no restrictions on the collection's use. An attached synopsis of the Burgum case taken from Senate Council minutes is provided to offer an overview of the events.

Related Material at the New York University Archives

Additional references to Burgum in the New York University Archives include: Academic Freedom and New York University: The Case of Professor Edwin Berry Burgum James Armsey Papers, Box 1, folders 19 and 20 Records of the Office of Executive Vice Chancellor David D. Henry, Box 1, folders 5 and 6 Records of the Executive Vice President, John E. Ivey (Record Group 6.0). Box 2, "Associations: Education." Records of the Lyman R. Bradley Academic Freedom Case, 1947-1961

Collection processed by

Peter Arnade

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 17:50:49 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Revisions to this Guide

April 2019: Edited by Jacqueline Rider to include undescribed materials and for compliance with DACS and ACM Required Elements for Archival Description

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from an OCR processed finding aid: "Inventory to the Records of the Edwin Berry Burgum Academic Freedom Case"


New York University Archives
New York University Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012