Denver Direct: Paul M. Levitt: Homage to Adrienne Anderson

Monday, November 14, 2011

Paul M. Levitt: Homage to Adrienne Anderson

Posted on November 14, 2011 by Camera staff

Anderson teaching at CU. Picture from DenverDirect files.

In 1952, the university of Colorado fired Morris Judd, an instructor in the Department of Philosophy, for failing to answer President Robert Stearns’s question, “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” On November 7, 2002, in the old Fleming Law building, an SRO crowd heard the university, in the person of Philip DiStefano, honorably apologize for the injustice and establish a scholarship in the name of Morris Judd.

Will it take another fifty years for the university to acknowledge the shame of firing Adrienne Anderson, an instructor in Environmental Studies, for exposing toxic waste dumps and the perpetrators, some of whom were patrons of the university? Adrienne had taught at C.U. for twelve years, had been an instructor in good standing, and had offered classes that were always over-subscribed; but when she and her students went public with their research findings, she was suddenly persona non grata.

The university immediately distanced itself from her research without asking its myriad scientists to check her findings, although repeated requests were made to do so. Her department suddenly decided “to go in a new direction,” cancelled her classes, and discontinued her contract. One can only hope that the newly formed committee to protect the rights of instructors will have the power to prevent further injustices.

To this day in the United States, we do not know where all the bodies are buried. Dumping sites holding toxins turn up periodically. Adrienne, part historian, part archeologist, part geographer, part epidemiologist, part sleuth, unearthed and studied federal and state documents to discover the location of the toxins. She instructed her students in the fine art of detection and imbued them with a sense of civic responsibility.

Adrienne’s students thought that the training they received from her was first-rate, and the New York Times thought enough of her work to run an article on it. Thanks to her research and that of her students, we know, for example, that several Denver locations are cancer hot spots because homes were built in areas where aquifers and water pipelines were contaminated, a fact that the usual suspects have gone to inordinate lengths to hide.

Adrienne died a few weeks ago from a brain tumor, whether caused by the nature of her work or for some other reason we will never know. But let us not wait fifty years to remember the debt that we owe her and to make amends. A scholarship in her name is the least we can do.

Paul M. Levitt