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Board of Higher Education of the City of New York Academic Freedom Case Files

Call Number



1941-1956, inclusive


New York (N.Y.). Board of Education


2 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.


This collection consists primarily of transcripts and testimony from hearings and investigations conducted by the State Board of Higher Education of the City of New York. The materials focus on alleged Communist Party activities of eight faculty members at City College of New York, Hunter College and Queens College.

Historical/Biographical Note

The following chronology provides a backdrop for the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York cases included within this collection:

1939 The New York State Legislature enacted Section 12-a of the Civil Service Law which provided in substance that "no person shall be appointed to or retained in the public service nor in any public educational institution who becomes a member of any organization which advocates the overthrow of government by force or violence, or by any unlawful means (L. 1939, Ch. 547)."
March 29, 1940 The Senate and Assembly of NY State adopted a Joint Resolution authorizing an investigation of the public educational system of the State of NY by a Joint Legislative Committee of the Senate and the Assembly. Thereafter the committee, referred to as the "Rapp-Coudert Committee," undertook and proceeded with this investigation. The techniques pioneered by the committee generally involved private interrogations followed by public hearings.
January 20, 1941 The Board of Higher Education adopted a resolution which provided in part as follows: "Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved, that this Board direct all members of the staffs and all other employees under their jurisdiction to promptly obey all subpoenas issued by the Joint Legislative Committee, and to give such testimony and such other information as may be required by the Committee or any subcommittee thereof, and to otherwise cooperate with said Committee to the best of their ability..."
March 1949 The Legislature enacted the "Feinberg Law" which had for its principal purpose the more effective enforcement of the provisions of Section 12-a of the Civil Service Law (L. 149, Ch. 360, as amended by Laws 1953, Ch. 681.)
July 15, 1949 Rules were promulgated by the Board of Regents under and in accordance with the Feinberg Law concerning a list to be maintained of organizations the Board found subversive.
March 3, 1952 In Adler v. Board of Education of the City of New York, the US Supreme Court upheld the Feinberg Law ("The Court finds no constitutional infirmity in Section 12-a of the Civil Service Law of New ...")
June 15, 1953 A Special Committee of the Board of Higher Education was appointed on "Section 903 of the City Charter, the Feinberg Law and Related Matters." The purpose of the Special Committee was to undertake an investigative program designed to obtain all of the facts and available information relating to the membership and activities of any college staff members in or connected with subsersive organizations and particularly of the Communist Party, and to take or recommend such actions as the facts warrant.
September 28, 1953 The Board of Higher Education adopted a resolution authorizing the Board's Special Committee..., or a duly credited representative of the Special Committee, to call in for questioning such members of the staffs as the Special Committee or its representatives deemed necessary with respect to possible past or present membership or association with any organization that advocates or teaches the doctrine of the forceful overthrow of the Government of the United States or with respect to past or present participation in activities of any such organization by any staff members. And further, that failure to cooperate fully and to answer all proper questions would subject staff members to disciplinary action.
January 23, 1967 By a vote of 5 to 4, the US Supreme Court, in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, declared unconstitutional New York statutes and administrative rules designed to prevent employment of "subversive" teachers and professors in state educational institutions...The decision rejected a state's power to make public employment conditional on surrendering constitutional rights that could not otherwise be abridged by direct state action.


The collection is a single series. Folders are arranged alphabetically (case folders alphabetized by last name of defendant; others by topic).

Scope and Content Note

This collection is composed primarily of transcripts and testimonies from hearings and investigations concerning the alleged Communist Party membership or associations of eight faculty members of New York City public universities. Conducted by the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York, or its representatives, the hearings were held during two time periods: 1941 and 1953-1955.

Hearings held in 1941 involved four members of the faculty of the City College of New York: Saul Bernstein, Biology instructor; Arthur R. Braunlich, Jr., tutor of English; Seymour A. Copstein, also an English tutor; and Philip S. Foner, History instructor. Each had previously appeared before the Joint Legislative Committee on the State Education System (Rapp-Coudert Committee) and each was charged with Party membership, committing perjury before Rapp-Coudert and failure to fully cooperate with the investigations.

The second group of transcripts and testimonies (1953-1955) involve four more faculty members: Charles W. Hughes, associate professor in the Department of Music at Hunter College; V. Jerauld McGill, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Philosophy at Hunter; Louis Weisner, associate professor of Mathematics at Hunter; and Dudley David Straus, English instructor at Queens College. McGill had previously appeared before Rapp-Coudert and was charged with giving false testimony, witholding information from the Board's Special Committee and colluding with Charles Hughes and Louis Weisner to refuse to answer certain questions; i.e., to inform on others. Hughes and Weisner were accused similarly (with the exception of the Rapp-Coudert perjury charge). Dudley David Straus was also charged with Communist Party membership.

In addition to the transcripts and testimonies, there are a number of related documents including a copy of the Board's policy statement, "The Loyalty Investigation of our Municipal Colleges"; court documents from several related cases involving city secondary school teachers; an analysis and appraisal of The Report of the Rapp-Coudert Committee by the New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild; and a critique of the judicial conduct of Judge Harold R. Medina in the 1949 Smith Act trial of Eugene Dennis and others.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection, which were created by the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York in 1941-1956, are in the public domain. Users need not secure permission from the Tamiment library to publish or reproduce these materials. Copyright (and related rights to publicity and privacy) to the report of the Rapp-Coudert Committee created by the National Lawyers Guild was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; Collection name; Collection number; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Provenance unknown. The accession number associated with this collection is 1999.021.

Related Material at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Sidney Eisenberger Autobiographical Manuscript (TAM 370)

Frederic Ewen Papers (TAM 254)

Frederic Ewen Audiotape and Videotape Collection (TAM 277)

Henry Foner Papers (TAM 254)

Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky and Lieberman Legal Files (TAM 287)

Collection processed by

Jan Hilley

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:30:01 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: English


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012