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Chandler Davis in 1952 and 1991; Michigan Daily front page, 1952. All images Bentley Historical Library.

Past Event

“Keeping resistance alive”: Chandler Davis and Academic Freedom at Michigan

Feb. 2, 2023

Thursday / 7:00 PM

Event Details

H. Chandler Davis — courageous, stalwart and lifelong champion of academic and intellectual freedom in the face of persecution, including his own imprisonment — passed away on September 24, 2022, at the age of 96.  For many years professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Toronto, he was a former instructor at the University of Michigan who, in 1954, was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. His fellows on the stand were his colleagues Mark Nickerson and Clement L. Markert, and his student friends Edward Shaffer and Myron E. Sharpe. All were “unfriendly witnesses, refusing to confess” their political dissent.  Davis, unlike the others, based his refusal to answer only on the First Amendment, waiving his protection under the Fifth Amendment. Thereby he deliberately invited a citation for Contempt of Congress, so as to give himself standing to argue in court that the Committee’s proceedings were unconstitutional. He got the citation, but he did not prevail in court; his appeals were exhausted in 1959 and he served prison time in 1960.  Meanwhile, he and Professor Nickerson had been dismissed from their positions at the University. Davis’s deliberate and strategic approach to this assault on intellectual freedom was reflected throughout his long life of activism. His actions and those of his colleagues were eventually acknowledged by the Faculty Senate with the creation of the Davis/Markert/Nickerson Lecture in Academic and Intellectual Freedom in 1990.
This Making Michigan will reflect on Davis’s life, actions and legacy at U-M and beyond and will seek to understand and recognize his contributions.  Our panelists will include:
Steve Batterson, professor emeritus of mathematics, Emory University, and author of a forthcoming biography of Davis, The Un-American Treatment of a Red Mathematician in the 1950s (Monthly Review Press). Batterson is also the author of Stephen Smale: The Mathematician Who Broke the Dimension Barrier (American Mathematical Society Reprint, 2000). Batterson will focus on Davis’s stand on the First Amendment — rather than the Fifth — in refusing to answer HUAC’s questions, in comparison to others who relied on that strategy and those who did not.
Peggie Hollingsworth, assistant research scientist emerita in the Medical School. Hollingsworth was president of the Faculty Senate when the DMN Lecture was created and served as the lecture’s longtime organizer as director of the Academic Freedom Lecture Fund. Hollingsworth will focus on Davis’s legacy at U-M, including the creation of the lecture and his annual engagement with it.
Alan Wald, H. Chandler Davis Collegiate Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan.  He is a specialist in United States Literary Radicalism, and the author of many books including American Night: The Literary Left in the Era of the Cold War (University of North Carolina Press, 2013). Wald will focus on Davis’s strategy in the context of American leftist activism, in the McCarthy era and since, including Davis’s concern in the years before his death about the rise of a “new political blacklist.”
Register for the in-person event: https://myumi.ch/9PEr7
Register for the online event: https://myumi.ch/z1zm4


2022-23 Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture in Academic and Intellectual Freedom

In 1990, U-M’s Faculty Senate implemented the annual Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture in Academic Freedom.  This year’s lecture will take place the Monday following Making Michigan: Monday, February 6.  Information on the 2022-23 Lecture will be available here: https://facultysenate.umich.edu/davis-markert-and-nickerson-lecture-on-academic-and-intellectual-freedom/

Video screening: “Keeping in Mind: The McCarthy Era at the University of Michigan,” by Adam Kulakow

In the afternoon of the panel, the Detroit Observatory will screen on a loop the 1989 documentary “Keeping in Mind: The McCarthy Era at the University of Michigan” (~90 minutes).  “Keeping in Mind” was created by U-M student Adam Kulakow, and it played an important role in renewing awareness of the Davis-Markert-Nickerson on campus.  We will have screenings beginning at 12:00 pm, 1:45 pm, and 3:30 pm.  We will be open for walk-ins. The video is also available to stream here: https://www.academicfreedomlecturefund.com/keeping-in-mind
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