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Ann Fagan Ginger has spent most of her life engaged in the battle for human rights, using her cluttered library at the California-based Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute to write 23 books, contribute to the international human rights discourse, grade papers for students at five law schools and help countless lawyers identify obscure federal laws to bolster their cases. Convinced that reparations of the ilk of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission are the way to go, she’s waging a battle in the press to make Harvard University acknowledge some responsibility for its behavior during the McCarthy era. She wants the university to formally apologize for ejecting her former husband — a professor at the business school — after the couple refused to sign an anti-Communist vow. She also wants Harvard to set policy so that never again is anyone cut out of academic discourse because of his or her beliefs. In 1954, when Ray Ginger’s contract was terminated by Harvard, the family was given two days to leave Massachusetts lest they face scrutiny by a more rigorous state anti-Communist committee. At the time, Ann was nine months pregnant. And while the personal angle has helped her cause get covered in papers from the Los Angeles Times to the Boston Herald, it’s hard to get Ginger, a 1945 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, to spend much time speaking of the personal. She’d much rather discuss the political. The way she sees it (and as she put it in her September letter to Sharon Gagnon, the president of Harvard’s Board of Overseers) the university’s decision to fire Ray Ginger constituted a violation of his legal and human rights, and was “repugnant to the First Amendment.” Beyond the many ways it may have been a violation of the individuals involved, Ginger says the clipping of numerous Marxist professors deprived the national discourse of the contributions of a wide swath of opinions on the times’ political affairs. “That’s a very serious weakness,” she said. “If Harvard is not questioning, a lot of bad decisions will be made in Harvard and in the world.” Harvard’s response: “It seems clear, however, that Harvard took an action in the case of Mr. Ginger that many thoughtful people today, looking back, would not find appropriate,” read its parting lines. “It is also clear that you and your family experienced hardship and anguish as a result, and for that, president Rudenstine joins me in extending to you the university’s genuine sympathy and regret.” Higher up in the letter, Gagnon portrayed Ray Ginger’s firing as part of a unique moment in history, which its current administration would “not presume to speak with confidence or certainty about … nor to second-guess the motives or judgments of individuals in that different time.” Ginger’s response to the Harvard letter? “I found your ‘response’ basically nonresponsive,” she wrote in a letter last month, in which she requested a meeting for the purpose of discussing Harvard’s response plan. “My [first] letter was about the policies Harvard followed in the McCarthy period, the need for a thorough study of those policies and their effects on individuals and on academia at that time and thereafter, and Harvard’s present policies in the event of another repressive period.” Harvard did not return phone calls seeking further comment. But Ginger said she doesn’t expect to get a response from that letter: “They said in the press they’re not going to answer,” she said.

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