Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Death Threat against Marcuse in 1968

Shortly after Dr. Herbert Marcuse received a death threat at his home in La Jolla on July 1, 1968, the FBI, US Postal Service, and the media descended on San Diego. Below is a Xerox copy of the actual note (contained in the FBI file on Marcuse, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request).

According to a July 1, 1968 article in the Los Angeles Times entitled "'New Left' UC Professor Flees Home After Death Threat", Marcuse first took the letter as a prank and was inclined to ignore it, until July 3 when his telephone service was disconnected by an anonymous call. Marcuse, alarmed by the phone service incident, decided to leave his home with his wife on July 4.

The intrepid Marcuse was not, however, to be permanently ousted from San Diego. A Los Angeles Times article entitled "New Left Teacher Declares He Won't Quit Despite Death Note", published July 12, 1968, describes Marcuse's intentions after the threat: mainly, that he will return to teach in the fall. The same article also gives an account of UCSD philosophy chair Jason Saunders telling reporters that Marcuse had said, "I will not run away. I will not be intimidated".

Shortly after the death threat, Revelle College administrators and faculty expressed overwhelming support for Marcuse. About a month later in an Aug. 11, 1968 Los Angeles Times article, entitled "UC San Diego Faculty Backs Dr. Marcuse", gives a detailed account of this support. The Academic Senate of UC San Diego endorsed a statement to Chancellor McGill which read:

"Prof. Marcuse is a distinguished political philosopher, whose proactive writings have stirred controversy all over the world. We know him as a man of integrity and as an outstanding teacher. We wish to assure him and our chancellor of our complete support against the attempt to silence him, whether they be well-intentioned citizens, by persons capitalizing on false rumors to agitate public sentiment or by making threats against his person. The reputation of the University of California and of the San Diego community are at stake. We are confident that a great majority of the public supports us in our determination to develop in San Diego an outstanding university, free of violence or threats of violence and dedicated to the principles of freedom of expression and of scholarship, without which a democratic society cannot long survive."
Marcuse did indeed return in September to teach and continued to receive outspoken support from the UCSD Faculty and Staff. He taught at the University for several years after this incident and maintained an office on Revelle campus as "professor honorar", working with graduate students at the University until his death in 1979.

Works Cited

Keen, Harold and William Tully. "'New Left' UC Professor Flees Home After Death Threat". Los Angeles Times, July 11, 1968, p. 3-4.

Anonymous. "New Left Teacher Declares He Won't Quit Despite Death Note". Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1968, p. 3.

Anonymous. "UC San Diego Faculty Backs Dr. Marcuse". Los Angeles Times, Aug. 11, 1968, p. H8.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating bit of history. As we now know, this note was sent by a student and supporter of Marcuse. Even Marcuse did not find the note credible. For many years, the same modus operandi has been used by activists and the mentally ill. False reports of racial, religious, and sexual beatings, hate-graffiti, etc., have been made to authorities throughout the country. It is significant that "KKK" had not before and has not since made this type of threat against an academic. Of course, Marcuse was teaching in San Diego, not the deep South. The threat was investigated, and deemed implausible, and there were no credible suspects, except supporters of Marcuse. At the time, Marcuse was receiving great criticism for his Marxist views and activism. It was thought that by falsifying a note from "The KKK," opponents of Marcuse might be discredited and, perhaps, associated with the KKK. In retrospect, the propaganda effort seems quite amateurish and transparent.