|Vera Shlakman speaking with New York City Comptroller Harrison J. Goldin, left, in April 1982 after she and others received restitution from the city for being fired from college teaching positions because they had refused to testify in the 1950s about whether they were members of the Communist Party. With her, from right, were fellow recipients Oscar Shaftel, Dudley Straus and Bernard F. Riess. Neal Boenzi/The New York Times|
Vera Shlakman, an influential economics professor who was fired by
Queens College after she refused to tell Senate investigators whether
she had ever been a card-carrying Communist — a punishment that
brought an apology three decades later — died on Nov. 5 at her home
in Manhattan. She was 108.
Her death, which was not widely reported at the time, was confirmed
by her friend Ellen J. Holahan.
Dr. Shlakman was the last survivor among more than a dozen teachers
at New York City’s public colleges who were ousted by the Board of
Higher Education during the early stages of the Red Scare wrought by
Senators Pat McCarran and Joseph R. McCarthy.
A 42-year-old assistant professor when she was fired in 1952,
Dr. Shlakman neither taught economics again nor wrote a sequel
to her groundbreaking 1935 book on female factory workers.
Thirty years later, 10 of the fired professors, including Dr. Shlakman,
were indemnified with pension settlements after receiving an apology
from college officials.
“They were dismissed during and in the spirit of the shameful era of
McCarthyism, during which the freedoms traditionally associated
with academic institutions were quashed,” the trustees of the City
University of New York declared in a resolution adopted unanimously
in 1980. The trustees had succeeded the Board of Higher Education.
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