BATEMAN | Cornell Folding to Congress Is Nothing New

In 1952, Pauli Murray, the pioneering scholar and civil rights activist, applied for a position at Cornell’s School of Industrial Labor Relations. It was the height of the Red Scare, when members of Congress — most infamously Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee — targeted individuals for their political beliefs and associations.

Despite recommendations from Thurgood Marshall and Eleanor Roosevelt, the Cornell administration decided that there was insufficient proof that Murray was not a communist, and pointed to her “past associations” as cause for concern. They were likely referring to Murray’s involvement in civil rights and popular front organizations targeted by HUAC, but perhaps also Murray’s romantic relationships with women. These “associations” threatened to “place the University in a difficult situation.”

In denying her application, Cornell did not act at the direct behest of Congress. Its leadership acted instead out of worry, anticipating that by hiring Murray they might expose themselves to the scrutiny of the congressional witch-hunters. They hoped that by rejecting her application they might give “one hundred percent protection” to the University. Cornell was diminished by Murray’s absence.