The Bertrand Russell Case

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Kay v. Board of Higher Education
Court Supreme Court of New York, New York County
Full case name In the Matter of the Application of Jean Kay, Petitioner, v. Board of Higher Education of the City of New York
Decided March 30, 1940
Citation(s) 173 Misc. 943; 18 N.Y.S.2d 821
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting John E. McGeehan

The Bertrand Russell Case edited by John Dewey and Horace M Kallen is a collection of articles on the 1940 dismissal of Bertrand Russell as Professor of Philosophy from the College of the City of New York.

Background[edit]

Russell's appointment was confirmed by New York's Board of Higher Education in spite of a media frenzy led by Dr William Thomas Manning, the Episcopal Bishop of New York. The matter was however taken to the New York Supreme Court by Jean Kay who was afraid that her daughter would be harmed by the appointment although her daughter was not a student at CCNY.

Court case[edit]

The judge hearing the case was the Irish Catholic John E. McGeehan who on the basis of four of Russell's popular and non-philosophic books (On Education, What I Believe, Education and the Modern World, and Marriage and Morals) ruled against 'a chair of indecency,' finding Russell morally unfit to teach philosophy. In the books, Russell advocated sex before marriage, among other things.

Russell was prevented from appearing in court and an appeal by the American Civil Liberties Union was denied in several courts. The City of New York's lawyers told the Board of Higher Education that the verdict would not be appealed. A few days later Mayor LaGuardia removed the funds for the position from the budget.

Judge McGeehan's ruling was published as Kay v. Board of Higher Ed. of City of New York, 18 N.Y.S.2d 821 (1940).

Aftermath[edit]

When Russell published An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth, the lectures he gave at Harvard that fall, he added "Judicially pronounced unworthy to be Professor of Philosophy at the College of the City of New York" to the listing of distinctions and academic honours on the title page in the English version. Russell commented on Judge McGeehan that, "As an Irish Catholic, his views were perhaps prejudiced," and compared his case to the case against Socrates saying that "precisely the same accusations were brought — atheism and corrupting the young."

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: The Middle Years: 1914-1944. Bantam, 1969.
  • Thom Weidlich. Appointment Denied: The Inquisition of Bertrand Russell. Prometheus Books, 2000.