No one doubted Dr. Shlakman’s political leanings.
She had been named for the Russian revolutionary Vera Zasulich. Emma Goldman, the anarchist, was a regular guest in her family’s home. Dr. Shlakman was vice president of the college division of a Teachers Union local that was rebuked for being dominated by Communists.
But when she was summoned before a public hearing of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, led by Senator McCarran, a Nevada Democrat, Dr. Shlakman invoked her constitutional guarantees of free speech and privilege against self-incrimination when asked about her membership in the Communist Party.
“Do you believe that a member of the Communist Party can be a college teacher?” Robert J. Morris, the subcommittee counsel, asked Dr. Shlakman at the hearing, held on Sept. 24, 1952, at the United States Court House in Foley Square in Manhattan.
She replied, “I think that any teacher must be judged on the basis of his performance in the classrooms; that if a teacher follows professional standards in the classroom, and is a scholar, he is entitled to teach as any citizen.”
As an economist, Dr. Shlakman seemed to suggest that “communism” had become an overwrought term. She cited one example of what, by her reckoning, had once been branded radical but became an accepted staple of American life while leaving democratic institutions intact.
“When the United States Post Office began to carry packages,” she said, “this activity was viewed as a…