Oscar Shaftel Papers
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.
- Shaftel, Oscar (Person)
Collection is open for research. Staff may restrict access at its discretion on the basis of physical condition.
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
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 professors Dudley Straus and Vera Shlakman, 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.
1 Linear Feet (2 boxes)
Language of Materials
The Oscar Shaftel papers 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.
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
Donated by Oscar Shaftel in 1987 and 1994.
- Oscar Shaftel Collection
- This collection was processed by Special Collection Fellow Caity Selleck during the fall 2010 semester and approved by Annie Tummino, fall of 2011. Machine readable formatted by Stephanie McEvoy, Spring 2014
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script