Ten Teachers Ousted in 50s Given Restitution from City

by Paul L. Montgomery

 New York Times

  April 29, 1982

          Thirty years after the first of them were discharged for refusing to answer Senate questions about their political affiliations, 10 New York college teachers or their estates received voluntary restitution yesterday from the city.

           In a ceremony at the Municipal Building, Comptroller Harrison J.Goldin handed over checks representing $935,098 the city and state are paying to the 10 as a pension or a death benefit. Four of the recipients, between the ages of 69 and 74, gray now and blinking in the television lights, were there to receive the money and talk of their lives.

          ''This is a special day for the city,'' said Mr. Goldin. ''This is a day on which we right a wrong.'' Dr. Oscar Shaftel, one of the recipients, responded with a mixture of gratitude and sorrow. ''We will no longer be frayed-cuff retired teachers living on Social Security,'' he said. ''But I'm not sure I regret the experience out there in the world. There is always advantage in adversity if you don't die first.''

Court Ruled 15 Years Ago

            The laws under which the teachers were dismissed were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1967 and 1968. Two years ago, the Board of Trustees of the City University urged action on behalf of the 10, saying their dismissals were a result of the ''shameful era'' of McCarthyism in America.

Similar cases involving high school teachers had been settled by the Board of Education beginning 10 years ago. Officials said the delay with the college teachers had been caused by jurisdictional problems between city and state, the shortage of funds and the problems of moving unusual problems through the bureaucracy.

          Each of the living recipients will receive annuities paying between $1,000 and $2,000 a month, prorated to reflect their pensions if they had not been dismissed. Lump-sum payments were made to the estates of the three teachers who have died.

          The recipients present yesterday thanked Mr. Goldin and Carol Bellamy, the City Council President, for their help in the settlement. Miss Bellamy and her counsel, Rosina K. Abramson, acted as ombudsmen in the lengthy negotiations. ''It's nice in government when something finally works out the way it's supposed to,'' the City Council President said.

 

Appreciation to Lawyers

          The teachers also had grateful words for their lawyers, Benjamin M. Zelman and Victor Rabinowitz, who had represented them in a welter of appeals and suits since the first of them refused to answer questions about Communist affiliations before the Senate Internal Security subcommittee in the fall of 1952. Legal fees were included in the settlement, but Mr. Rabinowitz said they did not begin to represent the work involved.

          ''You don't make money from this kind of case,'' he said. ''You're lucky if you survive.'' The recipients of pension settlements were: Dr. Shaftel, $151,695; Richard Austin, $104,432; Joseph Bressler, $109,910; Dudley Straus, $151,163; Sarah Reidman Gustafson, $76,342; Bernard F. Riess, $129,717, and Vera Shlakman, $114,599.

           Estate payments were to Elton T. Gustafson, $17,265; Myron Hoch, $59,365, and Murray Young, $20,610.

Most Had Some Hard Times

          Most of the recipients had gone through dark times in the 1950's, unable to find academic jobs. By the 1960's, with a changed climate, most were back in university work. Mr. Straus, 70, who had taught English at Queens College, worked as a marine underwriter and multilith operator before going into medical writing.  ''It was a very bad time, hard on me, hard on my kids,'' he said. ''We have survived, but I don't recommend it.''

 

          Dr. Shaftel, who had been an English professor at Queens College, became what he called a ''hack writer'' after his dismissal, working under a pseudonym. At one job he held two years, he said, the manager called him in one day and dismissed him because he was ''controversial.'' He said he suspected that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had visited the employer.

            Dr. Shaftel began teaching again at Pratt Institute in 1964, and has taught as an adjunct professor at Queens College for the last eight years.

          At yesterday's ceremony, Dr. Shaftel was asked, ''Do you feel you have gained your honor back with this?'' The teacher looked out into the lights. ''I never lost my honor, ma'am,'' he said quietly.

Vera Shlakman, Oscar Shaftel and Dudley Straus