Malamud at Oregon State: A Digital Humanities Project

A New Life: Political Context

In 1949, Oregon State College President August Leroy Strand separately called two professors into his office. Professor L.R. LaVallee, from the department of Economics, was informed his contract would not be renewed at the end of the school year. Likewise, Dr. Ralph Spitzer, from the department of Chemistry, was called into Strand's office along with his wife, Terry, a student at the college. Spitzer was informed his contract would not be renewed at the end of the year, and Terry was informed her meeting on campus of the Young Progressives would not be occurring. 

Claims were made by many that the professors were dismissed because of their political leanings, and President Strand supported these claims. These dismissals sparked an overflow of communication from the community, and the nation. Some condemned Strand for his actions, others defended him. In the midst of the Red Scare following WWII, freedom of every kind was the topic of choice in many different contexts, but especially as it related to higher education. A discussion of academic freedom circulated heavily and had a great impact on the two OSC professors. To what extent does a professor's political views impact his professional career? Read the articles and statements and decide for yourself!

Our aim is to present you with enough information to understand the context in which Bernard Malamud wrote his novel, A New Life. National context is important, but so is the environment of the campus he entered into. Malamud joined the OSC staff in the fall of 1949, a few short months after the departure of these two professors. We want to provide a sense of what Malamud was hearing as he strolled about campus, and as he interacted with faculty and students alike.

We won't dare to presume that certain people he encountered during his time in Corvallis show up as characters in A New Life. However, after perusing all we've gathered for you, you will hopefully come away understanding a bit of the influence Corvallis and OSC had on the novel. For example, you might notice some similarities between Ralph Spitzer and the fictional Leo Duffy... but we don't want to give anything away.

Throughout the Political Context chapter of the "Malamud at Oregon State" book, you'll find a lot of diverse information. We start you off with a political timeline, so you can get the gist of what the nation looks like in this time period, both nationally and locally. Next, we'll explore nationwide reactions to the dismissals, accessible through an interactive map which allows you to geographically peruse letters of support and of condemnation. We'll hear from our dear friend and staunch advocate for Ralph Spitzer, Dr. Linus Pauling. We'll take you on a journey through the different organizations Spitzer and Pauling appealed to, although success was limited. 

It doesn't stop there. From a nationwide response, we'll narrow it down into a more localized reaction. Statements from President Strand, and Professors LaVallee and Spitzer (those two loved their joint statements) will follow. You'll also find a sampling of newspaper articles from 1949, filled to the brim with defenses and attacks on both the professors, and President Strand. Articles, editorials, letters to the editor... you name it, you'll find it. We'll follow that up with excerpts from Malamud's novel, A New Life, with a few annotations about the content and context of the writing.

To top it all off, we've provided a couple of in-depth articles about the whole case, should you be so inclined to investigate the case further. 

If you would like to peruse this chapter in a linear fashion, starting nationwide and slowly closing in on Corvallis, all you need to do is follow the pathways at the bottom of each page: they'll guide you to where you need to be. However, if you wish to search through this chapter based on subject, there's a table of contents in the upper left corner of this page on the menu bar.

You're currently on the "A New Life: Political Context" page. By clicking on the arrows after each subject, it'll bring up the next level of pages that are contained within that category. For example, if you would like to know how the community of Corvallis handled the dismissals of the two professors, you would hit the arrows to the right of...
"A New Life: Political Context," followed by...
"Oregon State College Politics," followed by...
"Local Reaction to the Dismissals"
And you're there!

*The Table of Contents appears in the menu bar on each page, so if you ever find yourself lost in the categories, you can use it to find your way around.

This page has paths:

Contents of this path: