The second recipient of the Frederick Ewen Academic Freedom Fellowship, Stephen Leberstein, has long been active in the defense of academic freedom. His interest as both a scholar and an activist is political repression of the labor left, in particular the New York Teachers Union and College Teachers Union.

Leberstein chairs the Academic Freedom Committee of the Professional Staff Congress, the faculty and staff union at CUNY and from 2000 to 2006 served as a member of Committee “A” on Academic Freedom of the American Association of University Professors. His research on radicalism and academic labor in the 1930s and ‘40s (see “Purging the Profs: The Rapp Coudert Committee in New York, 1940-1942,” in New Studies in the Politics and Culture of U. S. Communism. Monthly Review Press, 1993) led him to organize an effort to have the City University Board of Trustees apologize to the victims of that legislative investigating committee, which it did in 1981. His essay on the contemporary threat to academic freedom at the City University is forthcoming in a volume entitled Dangerous Professors: Academic Freedom, Academic Capitalism, and the Struggle for Democracy on Campus from the University of Michigan Press.

In addition, Leberstein was one of the founders and longtime executive director of the Center for Worker Education at the City College of New York, where he also taught history. Now retired, he teaches part-time on race, labor, radicalism, and abolitionism at Brooklyn College’s Graduate Center for Worker Education and at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He is a member of the editorial board of Working USA: The Journal of Labor & Society. He has also written on French syndicalism at the turn of the 20th century. He earned a Ph.D. in European history from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

His current project is an expanded study of the emergence of a left leadership in the Teachers Union in 1935, along with an analysis of the mechanisms of repression that initiated the Rapp Coudert investigation in 1940 and which persisted through the 1960s. While that attack has been described as a “dress rehearsal for McCarthyism,” it is significant that its target was a left-led labor union. Newly available archives at the Tamiment Library and at the New York State Archives will make this study possible.