Undermining the Foundations

Chairman B. Carroll Reece and his House Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations are convinced that the great philanthropic foundations are part of a “diabolical conspiracy" to promote socialism in the United States. In May the committee began a series of hearings after Norman Dodd, research director of the committee, reported that a group of “little known" persons “have established tight control" over education and research. The country’s foremost economist, SUMNER H. SLICHTER, examines the Dodd report and shows why the committee decided to shut up shop, at least for the present.



EVERYONE knows that during the last fifty years Americans have radically changed their ideas about the responsibilities of the government and of individuals, about the need for group organizations of various kinds, and about the appropriate role of the country in world affairs. These changes in thinking have led to great changes in economic and political institutions, in public policies, and in the Coustitution itself. In the field of domestic public policy there stand out the development of the Federal Reserve System with its considerable control over credit and money, the policies of regulating railway rates, of supporting the prices of farm products, of encouraging the organization of labor, of imposing a floor under wages, of providing insurance against unemployment and retirement, of providing public housing, of encouraging private housing by Federal insurance or guarantee of mortgages.

In the field of foreign affairs the majority of Americans more or less willingly accept the position of leadership which events have thrust upon this country.

Particularly interesting have been the changes in the Constitution. The income tax amendment (one of the most radical changes of all) and popular election of United States senators became effective in 1913, and the women’s suffrage amendment in 1920. In 1937 new interpretations of the commerce clause and the “due process” clause gave broad additional authority to the government, especially to the Federal government. Recently, the sweeping segregation decision of the Supreme Court has given new fundamental rights to millions of Negroes.

These radical changes in thinking, policies, and institutions have usually been explained by changes in the conditions of life and technology (the automobile, the airplane, the radio, the extraordinary growth in the use of electric power, the atomic bomb), and by the impact of world-shaking events — the two world wars, the great depression of the thirties, the rise of dictatorships and of great movements of revolt, such as Communism, and the awakening of Asia. Surely it would be a stupid and a custom-bound people which would not develop its thinking and its institutions to meet such great changes in the ways of living and in the world itself.

Now, however, the country is offered a new explanation of the changes in thinking, policies, and institutions. It comes from Norman Dodd, the director of research of the House Special Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations, and is found in a report prepared by Mr. Dodd for the committee. Mr. Dodd has made some extraordinary discoveries. He ignores the great changes in policies and in the Constitution that occurred in the first several decades of the century and asserts erroneously that the changes in social philosophy and policies were concentrated in the four years 1933 to 1936. These changes, according to Mr. Dodd, are not due to new conditions of living or great events; they have been the result of a plot, engineered by a few leaders in education and research who have been aided and abetted by some of the great philanthropic foundations, chiefly the Rockefeller and the Carnegie.

Although Mr. Dodd is the author of the report, B. Carroll Reece, the chairman of the committee, and Jesse Paine Wolcott and Angier Goodwin, the Republican members who have been absent from most of the meetings but who have given Mr. Reece their proxies, are fundamentally responsible for the committee’s one-sided and unfair treatment of the foundations. In the first place, Mr. Reece, the prime mover in persuading Congress to authorize the investigation, seems to have started out with the purpose of getting the kind of report which Mr. Dodd has produced. In asking the House to authorize the present investigation, after a special committee of the Eighty-second Congress had made a report favorable to the foundations, Mr. Reece charged that the foundations were part of a “diabolical conspiracy” to promote socialism in the United States. In the second place, Mr. Reece, Mr. Wolcott, and Mr. Goodwin are responsible for denying the foundations and other organizations an adequate opportunity to reply to Mr. Dodd. After hearing Mr. Dodd present his report at great length and hearing various witnesses in support of the report and only one witness in rebuttal, the Republican majority of the committee voted to terminate the hearings. The foundations and other organizations attacked are to be given the chance to reply by sworn statements or briefs, not through public hearings—the medium through which they have been attacked.

But let us see the nature of Mr. Dodd’s charges. The principal villains in the conspiracy, according to Mr. Dodd, are the various research and educational councils—the National Research Council, the Social Science Research Council, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Council on Education. They have been assisted by various other organizations named by Mr. Dodd — the League for Industrial Democracy, the Committee for Economic Development, the National Education Association, the John Dewey Society, the Parent-Teachers Associations, the National Council of Churches, and others. “Our study of these entities and their relationship to each other,” says Mr. Dodd, “seems to warrant the inference that they constitute a highly efficient and functioning whole.”

What has this “highly efficient whole” been able to accomplish? Mr. Dodd says: “The result of the development and operation of the network in which the foundations have played such a significant role seems to have provided this country with what is tantamount to a national system of education under the tight control of organizations and persons little known to the American people.” The curriculum in this lightly controlled scheme of education, says Mr. Dodd, is “designed to indoctrinate the American student from matriculation to the consummation of his education. It contrasts sharply with the freedom of the individual as the cornerstone of our social structure. For this freedom, it seems to substitute the group, the will of the majority and a centralized power to enforce this will presumably in the interest of all.” The “development and production” of this curriculum “seems to have been largely the work of those organizations engaged in research, such as the Social Science Research Council and the National Research Council.”

The result of this control of education and research, Mr. Dodd asserts, has been to condition the American people to endorse the revolutionary economic and political changes which, he says, were concentrated between the years 1933 and 1936. Had education not prepared people to accept these changes, they would never have occurred without violence — at least so says Mr. Dodd. In addition to his broad, general charge that a group of “little known” persons have established “tight control” over education, Mr. Dodd has a number of specific charges against the foundations and the councils. Let us first examine his general charge.


THE last fifty years have been a period of extraordinary educational, scientific, and artistic awakening in the United States. As a matter of fact, the awakening began early in the fourth quarter of the last century and was fairly well started by 1900. In 1875 The United States had scarcely any firstrate universities and few scholars or scientists of first rank. Even as late as 1900 the numbers of first-rate universities and scholars were small; and while many Americans went to Europe for advanced work, few Europeans came here to study.

In the short space of seventy-five or even fifty years, the United States has become a world leader in scholarship, science, and many of the arts. Evidence of the change is found in the growing number of Nobel prizes awarded to Americans. During the first nine years of Nobel prize awards, only 2 out of 62 went to Americans, but in the twelve years 1941 to 1953, Americans received 23 out of 69 awards. Furthermore, the number of Europeans coming to study in the United States is greater today than the number of Americans going to study in Europe. As everyone knows, the rise in university enrollments and in professional personnel has been spectacular. In 1950, colleges and universities granted 16 times as many bachelor’s and first professional degrees as in 1900 and 18 times as many doctoral degrees, and the number of professional and technical workers in the United States (people in the arts, letters, science, technology, law, teaching, and medicine) rose from 2.8 per cent of the labor force in 1870 and 4.2 per cent in 1900 to 8.2 per cent in 1950.

It would be foolish to imagine that a great intellectual awakening could occur without affecting the public policies and the institutions of the country. And it would be foolish to deny that some of the foundations and the research and educational councils have played important roles in stimulating intellectual life. It is the purpose of the foundations and the research and educational councils to stimulate intellectual and artistic activities, and they would have been failures had they not done so. Most of the foundations and councils, it is true, did not come into existence until the great awakening in America was well under way, but there is no doubt that they have greatly invigorated intellectual life during the last two or three decades.

But the charge by Mr. Dodd is not that the foundations or the councils have influenced and stimulated intellectual life — the charge is that they have established “tight control” over it. Mr. Dodd has nothing to say about the mechanism by which this control over education and research has been established or how it has been accomplished without attracting attention or even stirring up strong opposition. His charge is particularly puzzling in view of one of his subsidiary complaints— namely, that only a few of nearly 1000 colleges studied by his staff have received grants from the foundations. Mr. Dodd does not explain how the foundations exercise “tight control" over hundreds of institutions to which they give no aid.

But the principal reason why Mr. Dodd’s charge is so obviously ridiculous is that it impugns the intelligence and integrity of so many thousands of persons. When Mr. Dodd attacks the foundations and councils for establishing tight control over education and research, he is also attacking other persons for abdicating their responsibilities and accepting the control of the foundations and the councils. These persons include thousands of local boards of education, the trustees and regents of hundreds of colleges and universities, and, above all, the entire teaching profession of the country. Mr. Dodd’s charge implies that all of these people have been either extraordinarily gullible or extraordinarily irresponsible and have been persuaded to accept without proper inquiry the educational ideas that the foundations and councils wish them to accept.

Mr. Dodd’s charge is an especially serious attack upon the teachers of the country. He asserts, in effect, that the teachers have so misunderstood the nature of education and their responsibilities to their students that they have been willing to give up any efforts to encourage students to think for themselves and, in place of such efforts, have endeavored to indoctrinate their students with a particular set of ideas. Finally, Mr. Dodd’s charge amounts to the assertion that these many thousands of teachers, though lacking ideas of their own, were nonetheless such remarkably stimulating and persuasive instructors that they have been able to induce a substantial proportion of their students to accept views that “denied the principles underlying the American way of life" and conditioned their students to support the “revolution” which Mr. Dodd says occurred between 1933 and 1936. A charge so broad and so extreme and applying to so many thousands of persons falls of its own weight.

If Mr. Dodd’s general charge is correct, then thought-control has been more successfully accomplished by the “little known persons” in the United States than in any other place in the modern world! Not the Nazis, not the Fascists, not the Communists, have been the most successful practitioners of thought-control, but American educators, researchers, and their collaborators in a few of the foundations! Their success has been all the more extraordinary because it has been achieved without the victims’ suspecting what was happening to them and also because it has been accomplished without suppressing freedom of expression and communication — steps which other controllers of thought have regarded as imperative. Rival political parties have continued to function, thousands of competing newspapers and magazines have continued to be published, hundreds of radio programs have continued to broadcast, and yet the thinking of Americans, according to Mr. Dodd, has been so skillfully controlled that no one outside the “highly efficient and functioning whole” that Mr. Dodd has discovered knew what was going on. Surely the Russian and Nazi controllers of thought have been crude amateurs compared with the American educators! If Mr. Dodd is right, Mr. Malenkov would do well to send his propaganda experts here to take lessons from the “little known" persons who have controlled thought in the United States.


MANY specific charges are made by Mr. Dodd against the foundations and American educators— too many to be discussed in a brief article. Four of his charges, however, deserve special attention because they raise fundamental issues of social philosophy. One charge is that the foundations, or at least the few selected by Mr. Dodd, have concentrated their aid too much among men on the staffs of a few institutions—Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, California. A second is that aid has been given to persons and organizations with leftist sympathies. A third is that aid has been given in the support of empirical methods of research. A fourth is that the foundations are helping to promote “ideas and practices incompatible with the fundamental concepts of our Constitution.”

1. Aid by the foundations has been concentrated among too few institutions. This charge prompts the question: “In a free society may not donors select the recipients of their gifts?” The judgment of the foundations as to who are best able to study certain problems or to carry on certain investigations may not coincide with the judgment of Mr. Dodd or of some government bureaucrat. But would Mr. Dodd have the government control the choice of recipients? At various points in his report Mr. Dodd makes it clear that he thinks that the government interferes too much with the lives of its citizens. Is Mr. Dodd suggesting a new kind of government interference?

As a matter of fact, the foundations and the research councils which they have sponsored have enormously improved the opportunities of students and scholars at all institutions, especially those with meager resources. The fact that a college lacks funds does not mean that a promising student or young scholar is necessarily denied help in pursuing his research. In 1953, the Social Science Research Council, using funds supplied by the Ford Foundation, awarded 41 undergraduate research stipends to superior students in 25 institutions; the same organization, using funds from the Rockefeller Foundation, awarded 39 research training fellowships to graduate students or recent graduate students in 19 institutions, and with funds from the Carnegie Corporation gave 25 grants-in-aid to 25 mature research workers in 24 colleges and one outside organization. Of special interest are the 156 awards to residents of the United States made by the Guggenheim Foundation in 1952. These awards went to men and women from 67 colleges and universities, 6 museums or private research agencies, and 6 government organizations, and to 17 independent artists, writers, and professional workers. The need for more help for unusually talented scientists and artists is very great but, thanks to the foundations, the scholar or artist of exceptional talent has a chance for help no matter how poor his employer may be.

2.Aid has been given to persons or agencies of leftist sympathies. To this charge the appropriate answer is “So what?” The criticism is not that the grants were made to people or organizations because they had leftist sympathies — that would have been a serious criticism. But if scientific or artistic merit is the basis for awards, some people with leftist sympathies are bound to receive help. So are some people with rightist sympathies. Mr. Dodd’s staff neglects to call attention to the fact that the foundations have given aid to people and organizations of all shades of political sympathies. Scientists who have surrendered their freedom by submitting to the discipline of a political organization are a special problem and may in some cases properly be denied aid that they would otherwise merit. It would be a sad day for the arts and the sciences in America, however, if aid for creative work and research depended upon the political views of the recipients. We have heard much of the political control of art and science in Russia. Does Mr. Dodd wish to introduce that sort of thing into the United States?

3.Aid has been given in support of empirical methods of research “undisciplined by either a set of principles or proved experiments.” Mr. Dodd is certainly entitled to his views as to what methods of research should be used in developing the social sciences. But the social scientists are equally entitled to their views. Every social scientist would gladly use controlled experiments to test theories if that were possible, but usually it is not.

The alternative is to test theories by experience — the method which Mr. Dodd does not like. It is not a perfect method because experience often alters behavior. The very fact that people reacted to certain conditions in a certain way on one occasion may mean that the next time they will behave in a different way. Social scientists are aware of the limitations of empirical research and try to allow for them. Mr. Dodd seems to have a preference for deductive methods, but these methods are far less useful than empirical methods. Deduction can produce propositions to be tested, but it cannot produce proofs of the truth of any proposition. The basic issue raised by Mr. Dodd’s criticism is whether the scientists themselves should not decide what methods are most appropriate for investigating any particular problem. Surely in a free country neither the foundations nor the government should attempt to regulate methods of research.

4.The foundations have used their funds “to finance ideas and practices incompatible with the fundamental concepts of our Constitution.” By this Mr. Dodd apparently means proposals that would substitute group or government decisions for individual decisions. But if Mr. Dodd thinks that the transfer of decision-making from individuals to groups or the government conflicts with the Constitution, he is wrong. The Constitution leaves us pretty free to select such institutions as we desire. It simply restricts the means that may be employed in making changes. Due process of law must be observed and, if property is taken, there must be just compensation, but we are free to set up any kind of economy we desire — laissez faire, socialism, a planned economy, a welfare state. When Mr. Dodd suggests that the Constitution binds us to certain economic institutions and deprives us of our freedom to change our economy, he himself is championing ideas that are incompatible” with the fundamental concepts of our Constitution. If the Constitution did not safeguard our right to make changes, there would be no sense in requiring that changes be made by due process of law.

Although Mr. Dodd accuses the foundations of using their funds “to finance ideas and practices incompatible with the fundamental concepts of our Constitution,”and although he attributes to educators and scientists extraordinary capacity to control the thinking of the country, he does not suggest what should be done about the matter. His only suggestion is a most unfortunate one. It is that the trustees of foundations shall not “abdicate responsibility” for the conclusions of the investigations financed by them. This suggestion is obviously impracticable. No self-respecting scientist would consider for a moment spending time on a study which he knew might be censored by the organization which put up the money for it.

The clear implication of Mr. Dodd’s conclusions, however, is that the government should do something about the “tight control” he thinks has been established over education and science. Certainly if thought-control of the sort alleged by Mr. Dodd were possible, the community would be faced with an extraordinarily painful dilemma. It would have to choose between thought-control by the foundations and thought-control by the government. It is fortunate, therefore, that Mr. Dodd’s charges are so fantastic and so lacking in factual support.

Freedom of foundations and research councils to select the projects for support is no less important than academic freedom itself—indeed, it is an aspect of academic freedom. Unless foundations and research councils can exercise their best judgment, the honest scientist cannot count on being able to win support for research by scientific merit and scientific merit alone. Mr. Dodd’s report, therefore, is an attack upon one of the country’s most precious freedoms. If his fantastic charges were believed, and if broad and new government controls were established over education and research, education and science would be made instruments of a particular kind of political propaganda. No democracy can flourish in which people are denied the opportunity to do their own thinking, in which scientists may not select the problems for their own investigations and their own methods of inquiry, and in which persons and organizations may not freely urge their own views concerning economics, politics, philosophy, and religion upon their fellows.

Mr. Dodd has selected for attack some of the most admirable elements in American life. Some taxexempt foundations exist solely for propaganda — to push a particular economic or political philosophy. Most of the foundations which specialize in propaganda may not be very useful, and some of them are dedicated to pushing crackpot ideas. The few foundations that Mr. Dodd has selected for attack are the ones which have most scrupulously avoided propaganda. And the research organizations that he has selected for attack are the very ones that have stood most firmly for scientific integrity and for improving methods of research. The country needs more foundations similar to the Rockefeller and the Carnegie, which abstain from propaganda, which exert no censorship over the work of scientists beyond attempting to assure themselves that the scientists are honest and competent, and which endeavor to support the search for knowledge at those points where the scientists themselves believe that investigation will be most fruit fill.

The decision of the Reece committee to stop public hearings after listening to only the attack on the foundations and one witness in rebuttal obviously raises a fundamental question of propriety in investigating procedure. Is it not elementary that investigating committees should not be permitted to restrict hearings, as the Reece committee has done, to only one side of the controversy? The Reece committee either should make a formal finding that Mr. Dodd’s charges are so ill-founded and fantastic that they require no reply or it should give the foundations and organizations attacked by him a chance to answer through public hearings.