The witticism attributed to Henry Kissinger that academic quarrels are so intense because there is so little at stake does not reveal the sometimes life-and-death nature of such disputes. Universities have been the hotbed of conflict since their founding. King Louis IX sent in the royal archers in 1255 to quell attacks against the Dominican friars prior to the seating of St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris. History provides many other examples of riots and mayhem at universities. Occasionally, one learns of acts of deliberate murder.
I recently found a striking example of an American academic who wrote his friends in the Soviet Union circa 1927 complaining about a visiting professor who was then arrested upon return to Russia, and later sent to the Gulag and ultimately to his death.
The victim was a friend of Pitirim Alexanderovich Sorokin, one of the greatest sociologists of the 20th Century, born of a nomadic tribe called the Komi in the north-east of European Russia, who was by 1927 working at the University of Minnesota. He invited a fellow Komi, a noted economist named Nikolai Dmitriyevich Kondratiev, to visit the University of Minnesota. Here’s the story of Kondratiev’s demise, from Sorokin’s colleague Carle G. Zimmerman:
Kondratieff (sic), an agricultural economist and student of business cycles, visited Minnesota in 1927 and stayed with Sorokin. A number of prominent American scientists were pro-communist at the time. One was a forester at the Ag campus where I had an office. He upbraided me for associating with Sorokin and Kondratieff and told me he was going to send a report about Kondratieff back to Russia. Later I learned that Kondratieff was arrested immediately after returning to Russia from the trip to see American universities. However, he was not given the final “treatment” until the Stalinist purges of 1931.
Sorokin, the World’s Greatest Sociologist: His Life and Ideas on Social Time and Change, University of Saskatchewan Sorokin Lectures No. 1, 1968, p. 19.
Both Profs. Sorokin and Zimmerman moved from Minnesota to Harvard, where they achieved great distinction, and Minnesota lost thereby the corresponding opportunity for such distinction.
I find the story above a rather amazing example of how an unnamed American Stalinist true-believer professor contributed ultimately to the death of a distinguished colleague.
So perhaps academic squabbles are not so inconsequential after all. . .
I’ve added some of the information above to the Wikipedia page for Kondratiev, so history can remember. Here is the permanent Wikipedia link for my changes, just in case this information is vandalized or removed from the Wikipedia article.
© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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