Reversing the Verdicts: The Case of Reed College

By Munk, Michael | Monthly Review, March 1992 | Go to article overview

Reversing the Verdicts: The Case of Reed College

Munk, Michael, Monthly Review

Poet Gary Snyder began his commencement address to Oregon's Reed College class of 1991 by paying homage to some of the professors who inspired him when he was a member of the class of 1951. Then he paused and, referring to one of the professors, declared: "Reed still has some unfinished busienss with Dr. [Stanley] Moore."(1) Snyder's words evoked a sharp and sustained burst of applause, but the majority of the audience probably wondered: "Who's Stanley Moore and what unfinished business does Reed College have with him?"

Simply said, Stanley Moore taught philosophy at Reed from 1948 to 1954 and retired from the University of California at San Diego in 1975. The "unfinished business" Snyder referred to is the puzzling refusal of a succession of Reed presidents to invite Professor Moore to give a lecture on campus, as a group of alumni first urged almost ten years ago. But the reasons Stanley Moore has become a cause celebre at Reed go back almost forty years, and illuminate the meaning of historical absolution and "political correctness" in our time and place.

Historically, the facts are also clear enough: Professor Moore, a Marxist scholar,(2) was fired by the Reed Trustees at the height of the McCarthy era in 1954 for declining to tell them whether he was a Communist.[3] Twenty-seven years later, after intensive pressure, alumni were able to wrest an expression of "regret" for the firing from the resistant trustees. Officially inviting Professor Moore to visit the campus seemed naturally to follow as a gesture of reconciliation. Instead, the college went on ignoring its glaring failure to uphold academic freedom. At the recent commencement, then, what Gary Snyder was referring to was this history of Reed's refusal to "do the right thing." His words confirm that this cold-war outrage has haunted Reed College for thirty-seven years and remains an embarrassment today.

So what does Reed's institutional behavior in the case of Stanley Moore tell us about the meaning of historical absolution? Appeals to history's judgment, after all, have been common cries, raised by dissenters and heretics in circumstances from formal debate to last words before execution. If absolution ever arrives, it frequently takes explicit form: in this sense history "absolves" when the correctness of actions or opinions previously condemned is generally acknowledged. Less often, absolution also brings formal rehabilitation of the dissenter or heretic--even, on occassion, raising yesterday's victims post-humously to hero status and presenting them as models for the present.

While few heroes have been nominated from the ranks of McCarthy-era victims, more modest forms of historical absolution began to be granted to some of them by the late 1960s. There were occasional reinstatements and some monetary compensation, but--more often--formal apologies and invitations were issued, or blacklists were quietly forgotten. Probably the majority of victims have never been formally rehabilitated, but no demands have ever been raised on behalf of most of them. In any case, American society has for two decades generally acknowledged that McCarthyism is a pejorative term.

But there is another dimension to historical absolution, and it is raised by victims as a warning to their judges to be aware of the present as history. "What will become of your reputation, power, or even your neck," they ask, "if your verdict is reversed?" This warning, based on credible evidence that those who enforce political correctness may some day themselves be judged, argues that history must not simply absolve victims, it must hold their judges to account--and even punishment. Debates over just this question are currently raging in several former socialist nations. And in 1954, Stanley Moore challenged the trustees in an open letter. Noting that his colleagues on the faculty had judged his fitness for academic positions by promoting him from assistant to full professor in only five years, he warned: "If those decisions are reversed now, who will stand condemned? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Reversing the Verdicts: The Case of Reed College


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.