A worthy reconstruction by Holmes (Education/Univ. of Vermont) of one tragedy of the Joe McCarthy era: the firing of...


STALKING THE ACADEMIC COMMUNIST: Intellectual Freedom and the Firing of Alex Novikoff

A worthy reconstruction by Holmes (Education/Univ. of Vermont) of one tragedy of the Joe McCarthy era: the firing of Professor Alex Novikoff from the Univ. of Vermont. Novikoff, who died last year, was one of the country's premier cancer researchers. Raised in squalor as a Ukrainian emigrant to Brooklyn, he worked his way through Columbia U., but his dream of attending medical school was squashed by a policy of eastern medical schools in the 1930's to reduce Jewish enrollment. Instead, he studied biology while teaching part-time at Brooklyn College. In his zeal to improve working conditions for younger faculty, he became involved in radical politics, ultimately secretly joining a Brooklyn College cadre of the Communist Party until, disillusioned, he left the Party in the 1940's. Later he became tenured at the Univ. of Vermont, progressing well in his career before he was called to testify in Washington in 1953 by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had gotten testimony from a former colleague about his 1930's allegiance. Refusing to name other members of his cell, Novikoff faced public exposure, which put his employers in an awkward spot. The villain of this piece--aside from the ominous aura of McCarthyism--is Vermont's then-governor, Lee Emerson, who began to put pressure on UV's president to sack Novikoff. An investigatory committee voted 5-1 to retain Novikoff, but Emerson persuaded the trustees to rid the university of this ""communist menace."" Fortunately, thanks to a recommendation by Albert Einstein, Novikoff was soon hired by the new Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and went on to international renown. A sharp, microcosmic look at the same plight of universities detailed so well by Ellen Schrecker in No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the University (1986). Writing with historical perspective, Holmes brings refreshing balance to his narrative, finding sympathy for both sides in the case (he characterizes those who hounded the professor as, for the most part, well-intentioned citizens). Photographs help bring his message home.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 1988


Page Count: -

Publisher: Univ. Press of New England

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1988