Blake College was a school that you started in Mexico. What were your objectives in creating it?
When I was teaching “Introduction to physics for biology majors” at Urbana College, the president of the school, Ralph Gauvey, said the goal of such courses should be to enable students to read and evaluate current newspaper and magazine articles related to the subject. At that time, the question of the biological effects of radiation from the fallout from atomic bomb tests was constantly in the news, so I devoted part of the course to the effects of radiation on cells, and suggested that students consider the authors’ affiliations. It was clear that people who worked for the Atomic Energy Commission, such as John Gofman, never acknowledged that there was evidence of harm from fallout, and that physicists or biologists who suggested that it could be dangerous were always independent. In the few instances in which a government employee described harmful effects from the radioactive isotopes in the bomb fallout, that person immediately lost his job, and was defamed by announcements that he had been fired for reasons of bad character or subversive associations. I was aware that professors with research support from the government were unable to criticize the atmospheric bomb tests if they wanted to keep their jobs, but since Urbana was a tiny independent church affiliated school, and I was simply following Gauvey’s instruction, I didn’t consider my little course to be very controversial. Usually, when a college plans to fire a person, they let them know by early spring, so they can make other arrangements for the fall.
In the spring of 1960, it was mentioned at a faculty meeting that a biology professor from the University of Illinois, Leo Koch, would be giving a lecture at Urbana, but the topic wasn’t announced. He chose to lecture about the dangers of radiation. He began his talk by holding up his wrist, and observed that he had stopped wearing his watch, since he had become aware of the danger of its radioactive dial. During the lecture he made a favorable comment about my course, and emphasized the great harm being produced by the bomb tests.
I think it was just after his lecture in Urbana when Koch’s name appeared in the newspapers, because of a scandal that had been created when the John Birch society contacted the university trustees about a letter he had written to the student newspaper, in response to an article that had condemned student “petting parties.” The Birch Society had been aware of Koch’s antinuclear activism for some time, but his letter gave them an excuse for attacking his immoral and unchristian character. Gauvey sent Koch a letter saying that it would be impossible to offer him the job (which I would be vacating, I learned a little later) because of the scandal, and then the Illinois president fired him. Realizing that small-minded trustees are always going to be opposed to free investigation and teaching, I immediately started working toward creating a student and teacher controlled college. Leo Koch didn’t have a job, and was in demand around the country as a speaker about academic freedom, and he spread the word about the kind of school we wanted to start.