Family of fired professor seeks historical correction


Kate Jamison, Online News Editor

Tulane psychology professor Dr. Robert Hodes was fired in 1953. The official reason for his termination was personal conflicts with his co-workers, but some people believed the real reason was Hodes’ communist sympathies during the height of the McCarthy era.

In 2014, Hodes’ three children, Bill, Nancy and Peter, began to seek a historical correction in the form of the posthumous appointment to Professor Emeritus from Tulane University on behalf of their father, who they believe was wrongfully terminated. They have sought the help of a lawyer, family friend Roger Lowenstein, and the American Association of University Professors. Their request was deferred to the university Provost Michael Bernstein.

AAUP President Rudy Fichtenbaum sent a letter to Bernstein in May 2015 asking Bernstein to consider a historical correction. The letter cited Ellen Schrecker’s work, “No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities,” and “Tulane: The Emergence of a Modern University” by Clarence L. Mohr and Joseph E. Gordon, which both detail Hodes’ termination and seem to conclude that he was fired due to his communist beliefs.

Bernstein responded to Fichtenbaum’s letter in November and denied to grant Hodes the status of professor emeritus, saying that doing so is against university policy and that professors emeritus have typically served at Tulane for more than 20 years. In his response, Bernstein did not suggest an alternative plan for a historical correction.

Bernstein did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Lowenstein said the children are hoping for another type of historical correction, like naming a psychology lab after their father or granting the children honorary degrees from Tulane.


Hodes came to Tulane in 1949, recruited to the newly established Department of Psychology and Psychiatry as a full tenured professor, according to Schrecker’s account of his case. In his years at Tulane, Hodes published over two dozen papers and received many government and private grants.

He was a communist and was also known for being outspoken about a number of university policies. For example, while Tulane was segregated, Hodes invited many of his black friends to dine with him in the dining hall, according to Lowenstein.

Hodes would often hold gatherings at his home to discuss political philosophies. At one meeting, Hodes collected money to purchase school and medical supplies to send to China during the Korean War, a political move that upset many of his coworkers, according to Mohr and Gordon.

Schrecker said that, in 1952, the dean began to interfere with the running of Hodes’ laboratory and reappointed two of Hodes’ subordinates whom both Hodes and his chairman had let go. When Hodes went to his chairman to discuss the problems he had with the department, his chairman said Hodes had become difficult and asked him about his politics, explaining that Hodes’ radicalism caused trouble.

According to both “No Ivory Tower” and “Tulane: The Emergence of a Modern University,” Hodes tried to find out what his status was from the dean of the medical school, M.E. Lapham. Lapham denied Hodes’ politics as a problem, and criticized Hodes’ tendency to cause “dissension” within the department. Lapham asked Hodes to resign. Hodes refused. In the fall of 1953, the administration of the department began preventing Hodes from requisitioning supplies and continued intervening with normal operations of his lab. On Jan. 31, 1953, Lapham formally notified Hodes that he was fired.

After his termination, Hodes requested a trial which went on for three days. The word “communist” was never spoken in that process but Hodes’ lab partner testified that Hodes’ beliefs were “treasonous.” The transcript of the trial is 972 pages. It is not publicly available.

“Tulane’s case was not very strong,” Schrecker said in “No Ivory Tower.” “Even those of its witnesses who claimed that Hodes was a source of friction admitted, as his chairman did, that Hodes’ radicalism was ‘one of the factors leading to the friction’ and that ‘many persons were being upset by his political activities.'”

One of his colleagues noted in the trial that “it seems patent that a full professor should not be dismissed simply on the basis of technicians working under him.”


The president of the Louisiana chapter of the AAUP, Tulane Italian professor Linda Carroll, said the historical context of Hodes’ termination is important to remember.

“It was a period of time when there was real fear of the communists,” Carroll said. “They had recently taken over eastern Europe. The Soviet Union was pushing hard against western Europe. There were many politicians who maybe took their reaction to those fears to an extreme.”

Hodes was not the only person who lost his job during the McCarthy era. H. Chandler Davis at the University of Michigan was fired and eventually sent to federal prison for six months for his political beliefs, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Ann Arbor chapter of the AAUP asked the university to make amends in 1990 in the form of severance pay or honorary degrees. In 1991, the University of Michigan created a lecture series on intellectual freedom that bears his name. Alex B. Novikoff was fired from the University of Vermont in 1953. In 1985, he was invited to attend commencement and received an honorary degree.

Political economy professor Mark Vail, the president of the Tulane chapter of the AAUP, said this case is symbolic of a larger problem that still exists in 2016.

“This is emblematic of miscommunication and even mistrust between the faculty and the administration,” Vail said. “It strikes me that this reflects a lot of history that predates the current discussion.”

Though Bernstein has denied the children’s request, Carroll said she supported it.

“It would be a gracious and generous gesture for the university to grant Dr. Hodes posthumous emeritus status,” Carroll said.

In a May 2015 letter to Bernstein, representatives from the AAUP stated the evidence shows “that the dismissal was politically motivated rather than based on the stated reason of ‘friction’ with his colleagues” and that the trial was “marred by procedural errors.”

The Tulane Faculty Handbook, under Article V, lists the following as reasons for termination of tenure; “unfitness as a teacher or researcher for reasons which include but are not limited to incompetence, continued inability to perform or gross negligence of professorial duty, lack of scholarly objectivity and integrity, serious misuse of the classroom or of academic prestige, interference with the academic freedom of others, or gross personal misconduct.”

After he was fired, he and his family moved to China, where the Hodes children were raised. They returned to the U.S. only after the Supreme Court ruled that merely being communist was insufficient for criminal prosecution. They stayed in Peking for seven years.

Now deceased, Dr. Hodes’ legacy lives on in his children; Bill attended Harvard University and then graduated first in his class from Rutgers Law School and is now considered one of the leading experts in the field of legal ethics, Nancy is a renowned Chinese professor and Peter is a social organizer. The children continue to seek a historical correction from Tulane.

Leave a comment