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September 7, 2011

Free Speech at CCNY Exhibit on Display at CWE

Sylvia Ward protest poster 

“The Struggle for Free Speech at the City College of New York: 1931-42,” an exhibition documenting student and faculty political activism at CCNY in the 1930s, will be on display at The City College Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Center for Worker Education, seventh floor, 25 Broadway, September 6-October 28, 2011.  Carol Smith, a retired CCNY faculty member, curates the exhibition, which was made available courtesy of City College Libraries. The Puffin Foundation and Yip Harburg Foundation provided additional funding.

“This exhibit addresses an important time in history,” said Dr. Juan Carlos Mercado, dean of the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies.  “It describes a series of events that took place at City College as it pertained to student and faculty political activism, free speech, protests against militarism, social and economic injustice at home, as well as the threat of fascism abroad.”

The exhibition documents the activism that was spawned by the Great Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe.  In an effort to limit dissent on campus, the College administration engaged in repeated crackdowns against faculty and student radicals and outside political forces.  The New York State Rapp-Coudert Committee’s investigation of “subversive activities” in New York City’s public schools and colleges (1940-42) ultimately resulted in the dismissal of 50 CCNY faculty and staff members.

“The exhibit was intended to inform students of the historical events at City College,” said Smith, who previously co-curated exhibits at Princeton University and New York University.  “It was our hope to encourage thought and reflection on academic freedom and the right of free speech on college campuses so as to avoid some of the errors and injustices that were perpetrated in the past as this debate continues today.”

The exhibit is divided into two sections: Part I covers student activism; Part II focuses on faculty activism and the ensuing repression.  The exhibit concludes with the 1981 resolution of apology from the CUNY Board of Trustees, successor to the New York City Board of Higher Education, for the dismissals.

It includes photographs, cartoons, graphics, political flyers and publications from the City College Archives, Taminent Library at New York University, the Reference Center for Marxist Studies and the New York State Archives.  Several displays highlight the graphics of Hugo Geller, William Gropper and Harry Gottlieb from the United American Artist Workshop Group, protesting the actions of the Rapp-Coudert committee.

The exhibit was first mounted at City College’s Cohen Library and has also been displayed at the CUNY Graduate Center, New York City College of Technology, Baruch College, Salt Lake City Community College and The American Labor Museum.

There will be an opening reception 6 – 8 p.m. Thursday, September 15, at the Center for Worker Education.  The event is free and open to the public.  Exhibit hours are Monday to Friday, 12 noon to 8 p.m.

For further information, contact Elena Romero, communications coordinator, 212-925-6625, ext. 258.  The exhibit can also be viewed online at http://www.vny.cuny.edu.

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