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Charles Van Doren Quiz Show Letters, 1959

Summary Information

At a Glance

Title:Charles Van Doren Quiz Show Letters, 1959
Physical description:.84 linear feet (2 document boxes)
Language(s):In English,

Arrangement

This collection is comprised primarily of letters from the public, which have been arranged according to which form letter they were sent in response. Letters filed under Correspondence "A" received form letter "A," letters under Correspondence "B" received form letter "B," and unanswerable letters fall under Correspondence "C." These letters are followed by a file of letters receiving personal correspondence from President Kirk, and include his response. Additional materials, such as the Office of the President's analysis of the letters as well as Van Doren's statement of resignation, are located at the beginning of the collection.

Description

Scope and Content

This collection consists primarily of letters sent to Columbia University President Grayson Kirk following the Board of Trustees' acceptance of the resignation of Assistant Professor Charles Van Doren from the Department of English on November 2, 1959.

These letters were counted and answered by administrative staff via form letters "A" and "B," with some exceptions for anonymous or unanswerable letters and letters to which President Kirk personally responded. Richard Herpers, the Secretary of the University, signed both form letters on behalf of the President. Form letter "A" answered letters in support of the University's action. Form letter "B" responded to letters of support for Van Doren. The University's analysis of the letters as of November 17, 1959 is as follows: 826 letters (133 in support of the Trustees and 693 against in a ratio of 554 women to 225 men and 47 unsigned). A sample number of envelopes was retained, showing that some letters were addressed only to "Columbia University, New York." A transcript of Van Doren's public statement of November 2, 1959, as well as a photocopy of his faculty appointment card, have been retained.

Incoming letters to President Kirk were initially sorted for response by the administrative staff into three sections. The sorting most likely corresponded to the number of staff members and has not been retained. Some of the letters were seen by other administrators, and at least one was answered by Provost Jacques Barzun.

The letters have been sorted according to the date and the response given--form letter "A," form letter "B," unanswerable "C," and personal letters from President Kirk; undated letters are placed at the rear of each folder. Envelopes were discarded except for a sample, and return addresses and date of postmark were recorded as necessary, found on the back, bottom edge, in pencil. The letters are arranged in alphabetical order within each folder. Staples and paper clips have been removed; news clippings were photocopied and discarded, though a number of letters have already suffered from acid migration. A few clippings were retained, buffered by acid-free leaves.

Using the Collection

Access Restrictions

All records are open to researchers. This collection is located on-site.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Charles Van Doren Quiz Show Letters, 1959, Box and Folder; University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library in the City of New York.

Related Material

Central Files, 1890-1984, University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

Historical Biographical Files [18--?]--2012 , University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Records, 1939-2006 , University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Archives; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Collection, processed by Marilyn H. Pettit.

Finding aid written by Marilyn H. Pettit, December 2003.

Finding aid revised by Jocelyn Wilk, 2013.

2016-10-26 XML document instance edited by Carolyn Smith.

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion October 25, 2016

Finding aid written in English. Finding aid adheres to that prescribed by Describing Archives: A Content Standard

    2016-10-26 xml document instance created by Carolyn Smith

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.

Genre/Form

HeadingCUL Archives:
Portal
CUL Collections:
CLIO
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
ArchiveGRID
Correspondence.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Subjects

HeadingCUL Archives:
Portal
CUL Collections:
CLIO
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
ArchiveGRID
Barry, Jack, 1918-1984PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Columbia University--History.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Kirk, Grayson L. (Grayson Louis), 1903-1997PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Quiz show (Motion picture).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Scandals.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Television game shows.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Van Doren, Charles Lincoln, 1926-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Historical Note

This collection primarily consists of letters sent to Columbia University President Grayson Kirk following the Board of Trustees' controversial acceptance of the resignation of Assistant Professor Charles Van Doren from the Department of English on November 2, 1959. Van Doren's resignation was prompted by his admission to having lied about accepting money for his staged appearances as a contestant on the rigged television quiz show Twenty One. This collection also includes Van Doren's public statement announcing his resignation after the revelations of his perjury as well as President Kirk's personal and form letter responses to the numerous letters the University received.

The public's overwhelming response to the University's acceptance of Van Doren's resignation illustrates his status as a nationwide celebrity after his long-running appearance on Twenty One. Letter-writers included alumni but were primarily members of the public. While the majority of the letters argue against the University's decision, a significant number offer support. The prevalence of anti-communist rhetoric among the support letters is of particular note and illustrates one of the public concerns surrounding higher education during this era. Also noteworthy is the volume of letters composed for and against a petition organized by some Columbia University students calling for the reinstatement of Charles Van Doren as professor. The letter-writers' frequent inclusion of clippings from newspapers as well as the public's awareness of the student petition demonstrates the widespread publicity surrounding the Twenty One quiz show scandal.

The incident was the inspiration for the 1994 movie Quiz Show , directed by Robert Redford and written by Paul Attanasio.