In the 1950s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin led a campaign to rid the country of what he considered the threat of communism. During the Red Scare, he and others blacklisted everyday Americans, forcing them to quit their jobs or drop out of school.
The search for communist sympathizers took its toll on one University student who ended up leaving the school. Fifty-eight years later, the University Board of Regents has awarded a posthumous degree to Milo Radulovich, who likely would have graduated had it not been for the Red Scare.
University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said the College of Literature, Science and the Arts was the first to recommend the honor, a Bachelor of Science degree with a physics concentration. The decision then went to University Provost Teresa Sullivan and was unanimously approved by the Board of Regents at its monthly meeting Thursday.
“To the best of my knowledge, the University has not done this before,” Cunningham said. “He was a student in good standing. If it wasn’t the McCarthy era, he would have finished his degree.”
Radulovich was a student at the University from 1952 to 1954 and stood up against McCarthyism after being removed from his position as lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.
In 1953, Radulovich received a letter from the Air Force Reserve informing him he had been dismissed. Radulovich had served in the Air Force for eight years prior to attending the University.
Although the letter didn’t cite what prompted the decision, Radulovich later learned he was considered a national security threat because of his relationship to family members who were being investigated for communist ties. His sister was a civil rights activist and his father was a Serbian immigrant who subscribed to a newspaper from his native country.
Radulovich challenged the Air Force’s decision in an effort to clear his family’s name. His story garnered local attention from The Detroit News, and in Oct. 1953, it received national coverage on the Edward Murrow show “See it Now” on CBS.
The press coverage of his case drew support from thousands of Americans and has been attributed to beginning the movement that led to the end of the McCarthy era.
Radulovich was reinstated in the Air Force a month after the “See it Now” broadcast as a result of the media attention and was enrolled at the University until 1954.
After the ordeal, Radulovich moved to California with his wife and two children, where he worked as a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
Radulovich’s legacy was revisited in 1996 when he worked with writer Michael Ranville to tell his story in the book “To Strike at a King: The Turning Point in the McCarthy Witch-Hunt.”
“It became more of a healing thing, culminating in the book, then the movie,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney said Radulovich also served as a consultant for the 2005 film “Good Night, and Good Luck,” which was written and directed by George Clooney. The film, which uses clips from the episode of “See it Now” featuring Radulovich, outlines the political conflict between McCarthy and Murrow.
He died on Nov. 19, 2007 at the age of 81.
Cunningham said Radulovich’s death prompted the University to consider granting a degree.
Dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts Terrence McDonald addressed Radulovich’s honorary degree Thursday, saying Radulovich “would have completed his baccalaureate degree within a minimum of two terms if these circumstances had not intervened during his senior year.”
Janet Sweeney, Radulovich’s youngest daughter, said the decision was unexpected.
“It came as sort of a surprise to us,” she said.
Sweeney said earning a degree was very important to Radulovich and that it was “something he regretted that he didn’t complete.”