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A Brief History of the University of Michigan Senate's Davis, Markert, Nickerson

Lecture on 
Academic and Intellectual Freedom and the Academic Freedom Lecture Fund

In 1954 the University of Michigan suspended and then terminated Professors H. Chandler Davis and Mark Nickerson, a tenured faculty member, and suspended but then reinstated Professor Clement Markert for their refusal to give testimony during a visit to Michigan of a group from the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. National AAUP censured the University in 1957 and, after a new Regents' Bylaw, 5.09, was adopted, removed censure in 1958. In 1988 Wilbert J. McKeachie, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, published an article, Reminiscences of the 1950's, in the University of Michigan AAUP Chapter Newsletter that reviewed in detail the treatment of Davis, Markert and Nickerson at the University of Michigan during the 1950's. David Hollinger, former Professor of History at the University, also wrote an account of these events for the 1988 Centennial Celebration Bulletin of the Rackham Graduate School. Adam Kulakow, an L. S. & A. undergraduate at the time, elected to prepare a 90 minute video presentation based upon these accounts, for his undergraduate honors dissertation. This video presentation, Keeping in Mind, was shown publicly for the first time on April 9, 1989, to a large audience in the Natural Science Auditorium 4 that included the three professors.

At the time of the first presentation of Keeping in Mind, a member of the audience suggested that the University be asked to make amends for its treatment of the three professors in 1954.   The University of Michigan Chapter of the AAUP pursued this matter, contacted various University officials, hoping that they would encourage the Regents to take appropriate action, and finally sent a proposal to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs on October 25, 1989. The University's Senate Assembly endorsed the proposal in February, 1990. When it became clear that the Regents would not take action, the Senate Assembly on November 19, 1990, passed a resolution that deeply regretted "the failure of the University Community to protect the values of intellectual freedom" in 1954 and established the annual University of Michigan Senate Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom.

At the same meeting, the Senate Assembly established an Academic Freedom Lecture Fund (AFLF). As the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) sought donations for the AFLF, the national AAUP and the Board of its Academic Freedom Fund authorized a matching grant of $5000 to the AFLF. On February 18, 1991, the first Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture was given by Robert M. O'Neil, General Counsel of the national AAUP, Professor of Law and Past President of the University of Virginia The three professors were present and participated in a panel discussion after the lecture. Adam Kulakow whose video had such an impact, was also present.

On June 10, 1991, the AFLF was established as an independent, tax-exempt organization. The constitution of the AFLF describes the organization as one that supports public lectures on academic freedom, wherever they might be given. The AFLF relies on contributions from the public in order to continue to support such activities. In addition to contributions from individuals, the AFLF has received financial support from the Academic Freedom Fund of the national AAUP and from the Professors' Fund For Educational Issues, affiliated with the Michigan Conference of the AAUP.


More about challenges to
a free press
John Adams (1797-1801):
During the French Revolutionary War he signed Alien and Sedition Acts, making it illegal to criticize the President or Congress. Several editors were arrested and indicted.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-65): During civil war he enforced mail and press censorship. Military arrested editors who opposed the war and suspended publication of some newspapers.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09): 
The New York World alleged corruption in acquisition of the Panama Canal. Publisher was charged with criminal libel.
Richard Nixon (1969-74): 
The New York Times published excerpts of secret study on expanding military actions in Vietnam. Injunction prohibiting paper from printing any more was lifted by Supreme Court.

University of Michigan Senate Assembly Resolution

Adopted November 19, 1990

The faculty of the University of Michigan affirms that academic and intellectual freedom are fundamental values for a university in a free society. They form the foundation of the rights of free inquiry, free expression and free dissent that are necessary for the life of the university.

The faculty recognizes that such rights are human creations, the product of both the reasoned actions and the deep-seated commitments of women and men. When such actions and commitments are set in human institutions, people may secure for themselves and for others, in the present and the future, the enjoyment of those rights.

We also recognize that these values and the rights they imply are vulnerable to the fads, fashions, social movements and mass fears that threaten to still dissent and to censure carriers of unpopular ideas. Such was the case in 1954 when the University of Michigan suspended three faculty members and subsequently dismissed two of them. We deeply regret the failure of the University community to protect the fundamental values of intellectual freedom at that time. It is to guard against a repetition of those events and to protect the fundamental freedoms of those who come after us that we make this resolution today.

The protection of academic and intellectual freedoms requires a constant reminder of their value and vulnerability. To provide for that reminder, the Faculty of the University of Michigan hereby resolves to establish an Annual Senate Lecture on Academic and on Intellectual Freedom, to be named: The University of Michigan Senate's Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom.

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