McCarthy-era Methods, Operation Red Scare, and Senator Morrow’s Defense of His Student Bill of Rights
by Michael Aparicio
October 17, 2005
Dr. Schrecker’s analysis reminds us of an important role of historical studies. Among other things, fine-tuning our understanding of an event’s historical conditions helps us recognize and anticipate their contemporary significance. I’d like to add to this conversation by both highlighting and elaborating on three of the similarities between McCarthy-era methods and what happened on our own campus last semester. Taken together, I believe these similarities raise concerns about these events’ potential threat on academic freedom.
First, I’d like to share a brief description of “Operation
Red Scare” and its aftermath. Last
February a flyer was anonymously posted on the office windows and doors of ten
Santa Rosa Junior College faculty. On
top of the flyer was a red star. Below
the star was a McCarthy era section of
I believe both Operation Red Scare and Senator Morrow’s editorial employ three McCarthy era tactics.
portray educators as a threat to the public. The Red Star flyer associated 10 faculty with
the illegal act of indoctrinating or inculcating a preference for overthrowing
our government and replacing it with a Marxist dictatorship; and the SRJC
College Republican’s February 28th press release claimed “We did
this because we believe certain instructors at SRJC are in violation of
These claims are significant; for, even when such allegations aren’t true, portraying educators as a public threat can compromise and – under the right circumstances –even undermine their ability to educate.
Second, both Operation Red Scare and Senator Morrow’s editorial show reckless disregard for evidence. As Dr. Schrecker noted, only a few days after posting the Red Star flyer, the SRJC College Republicans’ President admitted the group had "no specific complaints, no threats or specific accusations." And Senator Morrow supported his editorial’s claims with no evidence other than two vaguely described incidents. The first was a 2002 U.C.B. course taught by a graduate student. The second took place outside the classroom, when a student was arrested and convicted during an incident when he was posting a flyer on a C.S.U. campus.
This is significant; for, if these allegations are made with reckless disregard for evidence, this raises concerns about the allegations’ actual goal(s). For example, are they poorly researched attempts to identify a sincerely perceived threat? Are they political opportunism and educators just happen to be collateral damage? Or are they deliberately targeting educators? I am not confident I can answer these questions, at least concerning the students who were behind Operation Red Scare. But, no matter what their intentions were, both Operation Red Scare and Senator Morrow’s editorial posed a plausible threat.
This is, in part, because of the third McCarthy-era method
employed by Operation Red Scare and Senator Morrow’s editorial. Both
threatened the livelihood of the educators they criticize. Admittedly, this method distinguishes
McCarthy-era attacks on educators and what happened here last semester; for
McCarthy-era attacks actually affected their victims’ livelihood and neither
Operation Red Scare nor Senator Morrow’s editorial had such an effect. But, it is important to note that each
appealed to such a threat. The SRJC
Republicans President’s February 28th blog threatened to “smack Sean
Hannity and the O’Reilly Factor” on faculty.
I remember reading this and worrying.
As this blog was written these shows were threatening the livelihood of
I want to make it clear that I am not claiming the SRJC Republican President was deliberately threatening my tenure when she threatened to “smack Sean Hannity and the O’Reilly Factor” on the faculty. I have come to suspect that she was on a “fishing expedition,” hoping to target biased college teachers in order to promote Senator Morrow’s bill. She doesn’t seem to have realized that her threat was reaching for a “shot gun” instead of a “fishing pole.”
In contrast, Senator Morrow’s editorial seemed to deliberately threaten faculty. Recall its first allegation: “Some campuses are morphing into hotbeds of incivility, intolerance, lack of intellectual diversity, harassment, intimidation, and breach of contract.” This last claim uses an important legal phrase… “breach of contract.” This charge could be used to justify firing faculty.
This is significant; for, in the process of showing disregard for evidence as he portrays educators as public threats, Senator Morrow seems to be deliberately threatening educators’ livelihood. As such, I am concerned that he is deliberately attacking educational institutions’ ability to educate, the very task upon which I understand the notion of academic freedom to be based, a task I understand to be vital to a democracy.