I was twenty-five, fresh out of graduate school at the University of Chicago and had just finished a Master’s degree. I had my doubts whether I’d be up for the grind of getting a Ph.D. and decided to take a year and test out whether teaching English could finally be my profession. At twenty-five you really don’t know what you’re doing.
I got accepted into what is now called the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, formerly a teachers college in the remote middle of Wisconsin, and God it was cold there. Back then in 1959 the college was evolving into a more liberal arts institution and later became part of the UW system.
Anyhow, I joined the junior faculty and taught English to what were mostly rural and unsophisticated white kids. I was nervous and unsure in my first classes and had no idea how to communicate to these unspoiled, smiling children from another planet.
The McCarthy era had just passed but was still fouling the political air, certainly in my liberal circle. I’ve written before about how the Army-McCarthy hearings brought about my political exit from a Republican family that to some degree tolerated him.
Anyhow, in one of my first classroom recitals I called out the Senator as some kind of sick despot. The kids just sat there, but one guy, we can call him Jay, got up and announced that the class was no place for politicking and that basically I should keep my political opinions to myself.
I was taken aback and, after later talk with faculty friends, realized that maybe Jay was right. Political controversy was not welcome in that environment, and the Senator of course was from Wisconsin.
I saw some reference to him in the recent blaring discussions over the Ivy presidents and the GOP’s general anger over their waffling responses. Big Donor Bill Ackman has made much noise about firing the presidents and holding all those students protesting Israel to account. Larry Summers, a former Harvard president, agreed with him but said “asking for lists of names is the stuff of Joe McCarthy.”
We haven’t yet realized the depth of the Senator’s vicious pursuit of communists, but an attempt to bring down those hated liberal universities might be in the offing. One must remember that counselor Roy Cohn was the source of Joe McCarthy’s atrocities, just as he later became consigliere to Donald Trump. There is no honor among thieves.