Persecuted because of his family’s origins. Expelled from the armed forces for alleged political associations. Tried with evidence that was questionable at best. Prevented from earning his University degree. This is the story of Milo Radulovich, a student wronged by his university and his country for standing up against anti-communist fear-mongers in the federal government.
On Sunday a memorial service was held in Detroit for Radulovich, who died in November, to honor his life and heroic struggle against McCarthyism. And now, half a century after his fight, it’s time for the University to follow suit by awarding him an honorary degree to rectify its failure to support him and its compliance with the government’s excesses during the Red Scare.
Radulovich attended the University under the GI bill in the early 1950s while serving as a U.S. Air Force lieutenant in the reserves. In 1953 he was accused of having communist connections through his father and sister, whose only crimes were political activism and a subscription to a Serbian newspaper. This flimsy allegation was enough to get him discharged from the U.S. Air Force, an action he fought in the media and in the courts. But the overwhelming stress of the case forced the devoted student to drop out of the University during his final semester.
Radulovich’s case, which was featured in the 2005 Academy Award-nominated film “Good Night, and Good Luck,” has become well known for its exemplification of the gross civil rights violations associated with the Red Scare of the mid-20th century. But the story seldom told is that of the University’s role in this affair. Under the pressures of fighting his wrongful discharge against significant odds, his schoolwork suffered. But the University turned a blind eye to his troubles. When Radulovich expressed concerns about managing his case and his course load, a faculty member responded, “Why don’t you find a new major?”
This attitude echoes other stories of the University’s passive adherence to McCarthyism, when it even failed to support accused faculty. What’s worse is that Radulovich was later found innocent and reinstated into the armed services, but he never received similar reparation from the University.
Metro Times columnist and University alum Jack Lessenberry has suggested in the past that the University confer an honorary degree upon Radulovich, but he reports that he never received a response. When questioned, the University was unable to confirm or deny that it received Lessenberry’s letters, nor could it offer an explanation as to what happened with his request. Meanwhile, it made Mos Def a “Visiting Professor” out of gratitude for his participation in this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day activities.
One of the hopes the University should have for its graduates is that they use their education to make a difference. What Radulovich lacked in credits he compensated for in life experience, inspiring change in a way befitting of a University graduate.
But the past is in the past. The current administration should not be held responsible for the mistakes of its predecessors. However, it should take the time to acknowledge those mistakes and honor Radulovich as an example of responsible citizenship. The University should recognize his righteous struggle by granting him an honorary degree. This gesture, long overdue and, sadly, post-mortem, would be a step toward acknowledging the University’s failure to defend Radulovich and others like him against McCarthyism.