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Repression Hits the Liberal Fan
by Herb Fox
A note from Washington University in Saint Louis tells of the case of David Colfax. Judged according to the only standard that matters, his practice, David has been a tireless worker in the building of radical action and consciousness. In 1967, he initiated the campaign to have the American Sociological Association take a stand against the Vietnam war and was also an organizer of the Sociology Liberation Movement and the Union of Radical Sociologists.
In St. Louis since 1969, he has played an active role in establishing a radical research and action group of health, education and welfare workers and in establishing and editing a radical newspaper. There he also worked with welfare-rights groups and was active at Washington University in the strike following the Kent State murders and the Cambodian invasion and in the successful anti-ROTC campaign.
That David should be the object of repression by reactionary administrators with the support of political conservatives is no surprise. For many it should also not be a surprise that the denial of tenure and the giving of a terminal contract can be traced to the weak recommendation of liberals in the senior faculty. Intimidated by administrative talk of shutting down the department, they acted in defense of all that is dear to them-their own privileged positions. The note from Washington University describes the events as follows:
Immediately following a review of his credentials and an interview in which his relations with the Black Panther Party were examined, Colfax was informed that the senior faculty had voted 5—4 to grant him tenure.
Several days later, however, on the pretext that several of the people who had voted against him had not had an opportunity to review his work or had not read his outside letters of support, another meeting and vote was scheduled, the argument being that this would provide a chance for a stronger vote in his favor.
But already administrative reactions to the original vote had been made known: Colfax, active in the student strike and ‘in the community, was not to be granted tenure. And thereupon two of his original supporters, concerned with “departmental autonomy” in the face of administrative opposition, acted accordingly: this time they abstained, as did another who had been formerly opposed to Colfax. This time the vote was three favorable, three opposed, and three abstentions.
Both votes were forwarded to the university personnel committee, the “official position” of the department chairman, a David Carpenter, being that the second-illegal-vote was merely “informational’: And in mid-February Colfax received a copy of a letter from the Dean to Carpenter stating that, “The (Personnel) Committee has advised me, and I share their opinion, that the departmental recommendation was not sufficiently strong to warrant recommendation of his tenure. It must be my conclusion therefore, that his appointment for the academic year 1971-72 will be a terminal one.”
We stand behind our brother scientist, David Colfax, and congratulate him on being acknowledged by the enemy as an effective fighter. The weapons used against him, denial of tenure and non-renewal of contract, are becoming the standard tools of academic repression. So although we recognize the setback we also appreciate the lesson as to how untrustworthy and unprincipled liberals are and how easily they can be intimidated. David’s case will be a victory in the long run if we all learn that lesson.
Letters protesting the handling and outcome of this matter should be sent to the campus newspaper, Student Life, with copies to the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the President of the Sociology Graduate Student Union, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. 63130.