Forced to Open the Vault?

A local newspaper is suing the University of Colorado to force the release of a controversial document that has been locked in university vaults for 50 years.

The Boulder Daily Camera is seeking the document, a 126-page report authored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that names dozens of suspected communists employed as professors at the university during the early 1950s.

"People were coming out of the woodwork and apparently accusing anyone they didn't like of being a communist. It meant you had to keep your eye on your back for fear somebody would stab you in the back," said Al Bartlett, a physics professor emeritus at the university.

The Daily Camera, which has been after the report for eight months, contends it is subject to the Colorado Open Records Act and must be made available for inspection

The document was released in 1951, when apprehension and mistrust ran rampant through the entertainment industry, the corporate world and academia because of actions by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and a commitment by Sen. Joseph McCarthy to flush out suspected communists in American society.

Then-University of Colorado President Robert Stearns did his part to cooperate: He asked the FBI to expose suspected communists at the university. At least two professors lost their jobs based on the accusations. Three others were re-appointed.

"The record of the university does show there were some people who were released," said Board of Regents Chairwoman Maureen Ediger, who says that releasing the report now will only bring harm and damage to the professors named in the report.

"It is important that this report stay sealed," she said.

"It's probably not going to be a glowing report of the university," said Jim Martin, one of the CU regents who wants the controversial document made public.

Martin said it's OK to unveil the report, locked in a safety deposit box since 1953, because it bears no reflection on the university today.

Ediger said now is not the time, though, because emotions are still too raw, and opening the report could expose the school to defamation lawsuits. Four of the professors are dead, and the last told The Daily Camera that he doesn't mind the report being released.

Bartlett said the regents are clearly trying to protect the school but are injuring themselves in the process.

"Its probably just a tempest in a teapot where some people don't want to give up their rights to keep things secret," he said.