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The Militant, 28 February 1949

Queens College Case and Catholic Hierarchy

(23 February 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 9, 28 February 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


NEW YORK, Feb. 23 – Leading Protestant clergymen, educators, parents groups and teachers organizations in this, city, as well as most of the daily papers, have been aroused to stormy protest against what they call Mayor O’Dwyer’s “unprecedented political interference” against the Board of Higher Education’s anticipated choice of Dr. Bryn J. Hovde, head of the New School for Social Research, for the presidency of Queens College, a municipal institution.

The cry of “political interference” is a euphemism for the real and far more sinister agency behind O’Dwyer’s brazen attempt to dictate to the elected Board whom it shall appoint for the Queens College post vacated by Dr. Paul Klapper last April and temporarily filled by Dr. Margeret V. Kiely.

Audacious Moves

This is the most audacious move yet made by the Roman Catholic hierarchy to invade the public educational system of the country’s largest city. The press, terrorized by fear of Catholic pressure and boycott, has dared only to hint at the true character of the “political interference” involved in this case. Several months ago the Catholic hierarchy was successfull in getting the Board of Education to ban The Nation, the country’s oldest liberal weekly, from the public school libraries because of a series of articles exposing the political activities of the Vatican and its support of fascist, dictators.

The full facts in the Queens College case reveal unmistakably the hand of the authoritarian Catholic hierarchy. Since the resignation of Dr. Klapper, Catholic pressure groups and politicians had been pulling strings to secure the Queens College post permanently for Mr. Kiely. When it became known that the majority of the Board of Higher Education intended to vote for Dr. Hovde a campaign to discredit him as a “communist” was launched by the Catholic hierarchy and its lay organizations.

Smear Campaign

The public spearhead of this campaign was The Tablet, official organ of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which called Dr. Hovde, a well-known liberal opponent of communism, a “leftist” and a “political innocent” who has been “playing into the hands” of the Communist Party.

Shortly after this deliberately concocted lie was circulated, O’Dwyer, leader of the dominant Irish Catholic political wing of Tammany Hall, summoned the Board of Higher Education members, over whom he has not the slightest legal authority, to City Hall on Feb. 17. In the presence of a delegation of 50 Catholic parishioners led by Supreme Court Justice Charles S. Golden, O’Dwyer savagely lashed the Board members for even considering Dr. Hovde for Queens College president. O’Dwyer claimed that the choice of Hovde was “contrary” to the “wish of the majority” of the people in Queens. When he polled the opinion of the 1,500,000 residents of Queens on this question is not known.

Wide Protests

Outraged attacks on O’Dwyer immediately followed from all but official Catholic quarters. Dr. Alvin Johnson, president emeritus of the New School for Social Research, stated: “An ignorant and foolish politician, flanked by a Tammany judge and a group of parishioners pretending to represent the people of Queens, presumes to tell the constituted educational authorities who may be elected president of Queens College and who may not.”

Mrs. Rose Russell, legislative representative of the CIO teachers union, called O’Dwyer’s move “nothing more nor less than an attempt by a certain religious grouping to control our public colleges as they already hold an enormous measure of control over public schools.” Protects have come from the Liberal and American Labor parties, the United Parents Association, faculty members of Queens College and the head of its students association. A citizens committee, led by a number of Protestant ministers and pnion officials, has been organized in Queens to fight the Catholic hierarchy’s encroachment on the city-supported college and its attempts to push a wedge of bigotry and clerical domination into the educational system.

Undoubtedly, the Catholic hierarchy has been emboldened to its latest attacks on the principle of the separation of church and state by the success of its lynch-inciting campaign against “communism” over the Mindszenty case. “Communism” has become the hierarchy’s standard label for all who oppose its attempts to gain state support for parochial schools or who attack its reactionary political activities and social aims.

Hovde’s Position

Ironically, Dr. Hovde, the central object of the Roman Church’s attack in the Queens College case, only a week before he himself came under open attack, announced, in the name of “academic freedom,” his support for the witch-hunt against “communists” in the schools. And the day before O’Dwyer attacked him, the New School printed an editorial by Hovde joining the Catholic hierarchy in its chorus on the Mindszenty case. Thus Hovde is being scorched by the fire to which he himself added fuel.

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