1917 February 10

Columbia University Bans Tolstoy’s Son as “Persona Non Grata”


Count Ilya Tolstoy, son of the famous Russian author Count Leo Tolstoy, was banned from teaching at Columbia University on this day. The university had a “persona non grata” policy that allowed any department chair to veto prospective speakers.

The repressive climate at Columbia University only worsened after the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917. University President Nicholas Murray Butler on October 1, 1917 fired two faculty for their anti-war views, and the noted historian Charles Beard quickly resigned his position at the university on October 9, 1917 in protest of the firings.

Learn more about the controversial role of Columbia University (and other universities) during World War I: Carol S. Gruber, Mars and Minerva: World War I and the Uses of the Higher Learning in America (1975)

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