Oscar Shaftel Collection

Table of Contents

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Descriptive summary

Biographical & Historical Note

Scope and Content Note

Arrangement

Restrictions

Controlled Access Terms

Related Material

Administrative Information

Series Descriptions and Container list

Queens College 1938-1994

College materials 1937-1994

Students Clubs and Activism 1947-1949

Dismissal 1952-1959

Reinstatement of Pension 1977-1982

Printed Materials 1937-2000; undated

Materials on Oscar Shaftel

Clippings on Queens College and Academic Freedom 1937-1953; undated

Pamphlets and Brochures 1948-1959

Material Donated by Oscar Shaftel, November 22,1994 1952-1994

Secondary Material 1952-2000

Oscar Shaftel Collection


Processed by Caity Selleck, Fall 2010. Approved by Annie Tummino, Fall 2011. Edited by Alexandra Dolan-Mescal, Spring 2014. Machine Readable Formatted by Stephanie McEvoy, Spring 2014

Some items from this collection have been digitized and are available through the Civil Rights Movement Archives

Descriptive summary

Repository: Queens College (New York, N.Y.) Department of Special Collections and Archives
Creator: Shaftel, Oscar
Title: Oscar Shaftel Collection
Dates: 1937-2000
Extent: 1.0 Linear feet, 2 boxes
Abstract The Oscar Shaftel Collection contains correspondence, flyers, press clippings, transcripts of testimony, printed materials and miscellanea documenting student activism at Queens College in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the effect of McCarthyism on academic freedom in New York State. Oscar Shaftel, one of the original faculty members at Queens College, was fired in 1953 under Section 903 of the New York City Charter for refusing to testify in front of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee about Communism in academia. Along with the other New York City public school teachers fired under New York City Charter 903 and the Feinberg Law, Shaftel’s pension was reinstated by the New York City Board of Education in 1982.
Identification: CR.2010.004
Languages: English

Biographical & Historical Note

McCarthyism, named after Senator Joseph McCarthy, was a period of intense anti-communism in the United States (roughly 1948 to 1956) when the government of the United States actively persecuted the Communist Party USA, its leadership, and others suspected of being communists. As chair of the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee from 1953–1954, McCarthy conducted a series of wide-ranging and controversial investigations. Members of the State Department, the armed services, civil service, Hollywood, academia, and many others were persecuted. National television coverage of McCarthy's aggressive behavior led to his censure by the Senate in 1954, but many continued to be investigated after that date.

In 1949, the New York Legislature passed the statute known as the Feinberg Law, which authorized employers to dismiss anyone who taught or advocated the subversion of government, or was knowingly a member of an organization which taught or advocated the overthrow of the government. In a Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality of the Feinberg Law, the Supreme Court first mentioned the term “academic freedom” in Adler v. Board of Education (1952), in the dissent of Justice Douglas.

Oscar Shaftel was one of the original faculty members when Queens College first opened its doors in 1937, hired to teach English. He served in the United States Air Force from 1942-1946, and was awarded the PCS Award for meritorious service. He served as chairman of the Queens Chapter of the College Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. As a faculty member at Queens College, he served as an advisor to the student newspaper The Crown.

Along with three other teachers, Shaftel was fired in 1953 after he cited the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions about Communist affiliation in academia before the Senate Internal Security Committee. The Board of Higher Education (now Board of Trustees of CUNY) cited New York City Charter, § 903 – which was adopted in 1936 and took effect in 1938 – as grounds for dismissal. The charter was designed to eliminate from public employment individuals who refused to answer legally authorized inquiries as to the "official conduct of any officer or employee of the city . . . on the ground that his answer would tend to incriminate him." Shaftel appealed the decision in 1959, but was unsuccessful.

After he was fired from Queens College in 1953, Shaftel worked as a freelance writer until he was hired by the Pratt Institute in 1963. He returned to Queens College in 1973 as an adjunct professor. In 1982, he and several other teachers won a settlement against CUNY to reinstate their pensions. Dr. Shaftel continued as an adjunct at Queens College until 1994. He passed away on May 10, 2000 at the age of 88.

The Supreme Court found the Feinberg Law unconstitutional in 1967 in Keyishian v. Board of Regents. Section 903 of New York City Charter was declared unconstitutional in 1969.

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Scope and Content Note

The Oscar Shaftel Collection documents Professor Shaftel’s tenure as a professor at Queens College, including his dismissal and his efforts to reinstate his pension. The bulk of the collection is from 1948 to 1982 and includes correspondence, flyers, printed materials, and hearing transcripts. The collection provides evidence of Oscar Shaftel’s personal experience at Queens College, as well as student activism on campus in the late 1940s and early 1950s. More broadly, the collection provides documentation of the McCarthyism and its effect on the New York City education system.

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Arrangement

Series I through IV is comprised of materials donated by Oscar Shaftel in 1987. Series V is comprised of materials donated by Shaftel in 1994, except for press clippings that were placed in Series I and III. Series VI is comprised of secondary materials collected by Queens College administration for the 50th Anniversary of the college in 1987.

Series I: Queens College
Subseries A: College Materials
Subseries B: Student Clubs and Activism
Series II: Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security and Dismissal
Series III: Reinstatement of Pension
Series IV: Printed Materials
Subseries A: Materials on Oscar Shaftel
Subseries B: Press Clippings on Queens College and Academic Freedom
Subseries C: Pamphlets and Brochures
Series V: Materials Donated by Oscar Shaftel in 1994
Series VI: Secondary Materials on Oscar Shaftel

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Restrictions

Access

Collection is open for research. Staff may restrict access at its discretion on the basis of physical condition.

Copyright

The Oscar Shaftel Collection is the property of the Queens College Libraries. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assignees. The collection is subject to all copyright laws. Queens College assumes no responsibility for the infringement of copyrights held by the original authors, creators, or producers of materials

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Controlled Access Terms

Communist college teachers
Queens College (New York, N.Y.)
Shaftel, Oscar

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Related Material

Queens College Photo Archive, Queens College Oscar Shaftel Papers, New York University; http://qcmccarthyism.blogspot.com Online exhibit

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

item, date (if known), box number, folder number, Oscar Shaftel Collection, Department of Special Collections and Archives, Queens College, City University of New York.

Source

Donated by Oscar Shaftel in 1987 and 1994.

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Series Descriptions and Container list

Series I: Queens College ( 1938-1994 )
This series is comprised of materials collected by Oscar Shaftel during his employment at Queens College.
Subseries A: College materials ( 1937-1994 )
Subseries A contains correspondence from Queens College’s first president Paul Klapper, correspondence with Queens College faculty, administration, and students; and correspondence and memoranda from Shaftel’s membership on the Queens College Publicity committee. Also present are Queens College student newspapers from 1953 to 1994 with articles featuring Shaftel; a drawing of the Queens College campus; a photograph of Oscar Shaftel in Iwo Jima with a B-29 plane in 1945; a photograph of Professor Robert Ball; a transcript from a Queens College forum that broadcasted on WNYC in 1949; and three Queens College Commencement programs.
Student Newspapers ( 195301994 ) Box-folder 1-3
Images ( 1945 ) Box-folder 1-4
WNYC Broadcast Transcript ( 1949 ) Box-folder 1-5
Commencement Programs ( 1941-1948 ) Box-folder 1-6
Subseries B: Students Clubs and Activism ( 1947-1949 )
Subseries B, Student Clubs and Activism, contains flyers advertising Queens College student clubs, activities, and elections that promoted academic freedom, the right for all political groups to organize on campus, and opposing discrimination against students based on religion and race.
Flyers ( 1948-1949; undated ) Box-folder 1-7 to 12
Memoranda from Queens College ( 1074-1949; undated ) Box-folder 1-13
Constitution of the Queens Student Body Box-folder 1-14
Series II: Dismissal ( 1952-1959 )
This series includes correspondence from Queens College President John T. Theobald (1953); a copy of the transcript from Oscar Shaftel’s testimony before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee; correspondence regarding Shaftel’s appeal of his termination by Queens College; testimony of former Queens College professor Vera Shlankman; court documents of former professors Dudley Straus and Francis Thompson (undated); and a letter written in support of Vera Shlankman and Oscar Shaftel from Queens College alumni.
Correspondence ( 1953 ) Box-folder 1-15
Transcripts ( 1953 ) Box-folder 1-16
Appeal ( 1957-1959 ) Box-folder 1-17
Other Professors ( 1952-1955; undated ) Box-folder 1-18
Series III: Reinstatement of Pension ( 1977-1982 )
This series includes correspondence from Oscar Shaftel to the Board of Higher Education of the City University of New York and others; a copy of correspondence from a Queens College alumnus to City University of New York’s Board of Trustees in support of Oscar Shaftel, Vera Shlankman, and Dudley Straus; a transcript of Shaftel’s testimony before the Board of Trustees on March 17, 1980; and press clippings and meeting agendas collected by Oscar Shaftel.
Correspondence ( 1977-1982 ) Box-folder 1-19
Testimony ( 1980 ) Box-folder 1-20
Miscellaneous ( 1980-1982 ) Box-folder 1-21
Series IV: Printed Materials ( 1937-2000; undated )
This series is divided into three subseries and includes press clippings, interview transcripts, and pamphlets and brochures.
Subseries A: Shaftel, Oscar Materials on Oscar Shaftel
Subseries A is comprised of printed materials about Oscar Shaftel.
Interview Transcript and Press Clippings ( 1982; undated ) Box-folder 2-1
Subseries B: Clippings on Queens College and Academic Freedom ( 1937-1953; undated )
Subseries B is comprised of chronological press clippings about Queens College and academic freedom, including clippings on Ernst Stoller, whose invitation to speak at Queens College was allegedly withdrawn in 1938 because of his anti-Nazi comments.
Press Clippings on Queens College ( 1938-1944 ) Box-folder 2-2
Press Clippings on Academic Freedom ( 1937-1953; undated ) Box-folder 2-3
Subseries C Pamphlets and Brochures ( 1948-1959 )
Subseries C is comprised of pamphlets and brochures, including publications from the teachers union; a copy of the Feinberg Law (New York State, 1949); and publications from the American Association of University Professors (1951).
Teachers Union ( 1948-1951 ) Box-folder 2-4
Miscellaneous ( 1949-1959 ) Box-folder 2-5
Series V: Material Donated by Oscar Shaftel, November 22,1994 ( 1952-1994 )
This series contains the materials Shaftel donated to the collection in 1994. The series includes: a handwritten list of materials donated in 1994; a handwritten note to the Queens College Bursar’s office; a Queens College Press Release regarding Shaftel’s pension reinstatement; minutes from a meeting of the Board of Higher Education; copies of transcripts, press clippings, and correspondence found in other folders in the collection; and text of the “Expense Fund Speech” delivered by Richard Nixon. These materials have been kept in their original arrangement with the exception of some press clippings, which were integrated into Series I and IV.
Secondary Materials collected for the 50th Anniversary of Queens College ( 1952-1987 ) Box-folder 2-7
Miscellaneous Secondary Materials ( 2000 ) Box-folder 2-8
Series VI: Secondary Material ( 1952-2000 )
This series contains materials collection for the 50th Anniversary of Queens College in 1987, including photocopies of clippings from scrapbooks, newspapers, the Queens Yearbook, and Newsweek. This series also includes two copies of Oscar Shaftel’s obituary in the New York Times.
Materials Recieved from Oscar Shaftel in 1994 ( 1952-1994 ) Box-folder 2-6