- Professor of American history at Yeshiva University
- Self-described radical
- Author of several books about McCarthyism
- Says that many Communist spies were merely "internationalists whose political allegiances transcended national borders"
- Claims that leftwing professors are tyrannized for their politics
Born in August 1938, Ellen Schrecker is a professor of American history at Yeshiva University. She earned her doctorate from Harvard University, and she has taught there as well as at Princeton, New York University, the New School for Social Research, and Columbia University. Schrecker has authored several books, including No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (1986); The Age of McCarthyism (1994); and Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998). Since 1998 she has been the editor of Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors, on whose National Council she now sits.
A self-described radical, Schrecker has long labored to keep the American university as a preserve of leftwing values. She depicts advocates of greater intellectual pluralism in the university as revivalists of Cold War-era "McCarthyism," asserting that the campaign to promote academic freedom -- and particularly the Academic Bill of Rights -- is actually "worse than McCarthyism." According to Schrecker, this campaign intends "to impose outside political controls over core educational functions like personnel decisions, curricula, and teaching methods"; she warns that this "not only endangers the faculty autonomy that traditionally protects academic freedom, but it also threatens the integrity of American higher education."
Schrecker’s academic work is less a serious survey of the political tensions of the Cold War than an accretion of apologetics for the American Communist Party, liberally salted with denunciations of anti-Communists, whom Schrecker indiscriminately labels McCarthyites.
One review (Amazon.com) of Schrecker's Many Are the Crimes states that this book is “bluntly honest about the systematic persecution” that American Communists “experienced at the hands of conservatives -- and more than a few liberals.” Another review (Library Journal) states: “Probing the many corners where McCarthyism prowled, [Schrecker] fingers a set of professional anti-Communists who deftly maneuvered federal officials under the guise of patriotism to adopt the indiscriminate crusade that treated dissent as disloyalty.” According to a third review (Kirkus): “McCarthyism, for the author, was ... a right-wing conspiracy, and a particularly effective one: the most widespread and longest lasting wave of political repression in American history…. Together, they [anti-Communists] were able to create and propagate an image of American Communists as not merely dissenters but as a dangerous monolithic presence whose very existence threatened the safety and security of the U.S.”
Similarly full of passionate intensity against Communism’s foes, Schrecker’s 1994 work The Age of McCarthyism rages against what she repeatedly calls the "anti-Communist crusade." Executed spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were, in Schrecker’s view, not traitors to their country but rather possessed of a "non-traditional patriotism." According to Schrecker, numerous other Communist spies were merely "internationalists whose political allegiances transcended national borders."
By contrast, Schrecker is unsparing in her attacks on anti-Communists. "With their demise," she laments, "the nation lost the institutional network that had created a public space where serious alternatives to the status quo could be presented." The Age of McCarthyism makes plain the author's view that the ultimate tragedy of the Cold War was the defeat of the American Communist Party as a viable political force.
But while the Cold War is over, Schrecker has not revised her thesis that political repression remains a mainstay of American academic life. Professors are still being tyrannized for their politics, Schrecker says, only today the targets of the witch-hunt are not Communists but academics who are perceived to be "radical, one-sided, and hostile to Israel and the United States." As evidence, she cites the 2003 dismissal of Sami Al-Arian from the University of South Florida (USF). Al-Arian was the onetime North American head of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad; he had explicitly called for the killing of Americans and Israelis; he had raised funds for terrorist organizations; and he had attempted to secure a terrorist leader, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, a spot on USF’s faculty. Yet Schrecker portrays al-Arian as a victim of political persecution, not unlike the Communist idealists who populate her books. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2002, Schrecker contended that al-Arian’s firing confirmed that "universities are going back to political correctness … It’s really political repression."
While Schrecker has long championed the free speech rights of academics whose views roughly accord with her own professed radical politics, she has not extended the courtesy to other professors. For example, she stayed silent when DePaul University suspended adjunct professor Thomas Klocek for engaging a Palestinian student group in an argument. Schrecker similarly declined to take an interest in the case of University of Colorado professor (and evangelical Christian) Phil Mitchell, who was fired for assigning a book on 19th century Protestantism. Nor did Schrecker defend Kansas State University professor Ron Johnson, who was fired from his post as an advisor to the school’s newspaper after administrators capitulated to campus protesters upset at the paper’s supposed inattention to "diversity issues."
In April 2002 Schrecker lent her name to a "Letter from United States Citizens to Friends in Europe," in which the signatories denounced America's foreign policy track record and condemned the October 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. This letter stated:
"In Latin America, Africa and Asia, U.S. power has more often than not been used to prop up the remnants of colonial regimes and unpopular dictators, to impose devastating commercial and financial conditions, to support repressive armed forces, to overthrow or cripple by sanctions relatively independent governments, and finally to send bombers and cruise missiles to rain down death and destruction…. Supposedly in self-defense, the United States launched a war against Afghanistan ... it was exactly what the United States was already doing, and had already planned to do, as outlined in Pentagon documents: bomb other countries, send military forces onto foreign soil and topple their governments…. For half a century, the United States has repeatedly demonstrated its indifference to the collateral death and destruction wrought by its self-proclaimed efforts to improve the world."
Schrecker’s co-signatories included, among others, Anthony Arnove, Stanley Aronowitz, Medea Benjamin, William Blum, Ward Churchill, John Bellamy Foster, H. Bruce Franklin, Thomas J. Gumbleton, Robert Jensen, Gabriel Kolko, Joel Kovel, Robert McChesney, Norman Solomon, Paul Sweezy, Gore Vidal, and Howard Zinn.
Portions of this profile are adapted from the article "Ellen Schrecker's McCarthyite Crusade," written by Jacob Laksin and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on February 16, 2006.