In an era when Communist fear ran rampant, three University professors stood in the center, their patriotism questioned by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee. This committee, known for investigating Alger Hiss and the Hollywood Ten, became the forefront for the later McCarthy trials.
Clement Markert, a biology professor, was investigated at this time after joining the Lincoln Brigade in his youth, trying unsuccessfully to prevent Franco from overtaking Spain’s democratic government. Refusing to give testimony, he was suspended from the University but later reinstated with full support from the faculty senate, his department and college.
H. Chandler Davis, a professor of mathematics, also refused to testify. He was suspended from the University, and later dismissed. He was indicted in 1954 for contempt of Congress and served a federal prison sentence in 1960.
Mark Nickerson was a pharmacology professor when the hearings began. He invoked the Fifth Amendment and did not testify, which resulted in his dismissal from the University.
In 1957, the National Association of University Professors censured the University for “unsatisfactory conditions of academic freedom and tenure.” The next year, the University Board of Regents adopted a bylaw outlining grounds and procedures for dismissing faculty members, and the association removed its censure.
In 1988, an LSA undergraduate named Adam Kulakow brought the University’s treatment of these professors under scrutiny when he screened a 90-minute video on the issues.
In 1990, the University’s Senate Assembly responded to calls of reparations by issuing an official apology.
“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 resolution stated.
The University also decided to establish an annual lecture, to be named “The University of Michigan Senate’s Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom.”
Since 1991, the lecture has featured academics, lawyers and journalists including New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller. This year’s scheduled speaker is Harvard Law School Prof. Cass R. Sunstein. Sunstein will speak on Thursday, Dec. 4 at the University of Michigan Law School.