12 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, April 11, 1997
,; X, J,
When the Red Scare began to target academia in the
1950s, several University professors were among
those who fought powerful figures and accusations for
their poltical independence - and their jobs.
By Janet Adamy
Daily Staff Reporter
While former mathematics instructor Chandler
Davis filled his students' minds with variables
and equations in the early 1950s, the University
was trying to fire him for his alleged affiliation
with the Communist Party.
Not long before the student protests of the 1960s
gave the University its liberal reputation, the Ann
Arbor campus was not a bastion of free speech.
Davis, an instructor at the University in 1953,
remembers when the national wave of
McCarthyism began to affect students and facul-
"On occasion, the University would refuse to give
permission to let speakers speak on campus because
they were too radical," Davis said, recalling that in
1950, leftist speaker Herbert Phillips spoke in a local
book store because the University would not give
him permission to speak on campus.
Three years later, Sen. Joseph McCarthy's cru-
sade against communism hit the University with
full force and resulted in the investigation of three
instructors - Davis, former tenured pharmacolo-
gy Prof. Mark Nickerson and former zoology Prof.
About 40 years later, in an effort to keep the
event fresh in the minds of students and faculty,
the Senate Assembly established an annual lec-
tureship in honor of the three instructors who were
interrogated during the anti-Communist investiga-
Last month celebrated the seventh annual
Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic
and Intellectual Freedom. Each year, the guest
speakers address issues of academic freedom in
higher education today.
The era of McCarthyism
Often called the "Red-Hunt" or "Red Scare,"
the national search
began in the late l
1940s and peaked in
the early 1950s. 1947 HUAC he
Under McCarthy's l
direction, the HouseN
Subcommittee on No v First subp
U n A e r1 ca nto Prof M
Activities (H UAC) ' 'May Instructor
subpoenaed 1954 graduate
American citizens questione
suspected of associ- of HUAC;
ating with the ws pendt
Communist Party. Wy°instructor
The committee's graduate
questioning and Aug 3 Chandler
investigation led to 1954 letter from
the firings and j his dismis
imprisonment of L
hundreds of LCate ug Dav Ni
As Communist faculty c
their way into the Aug 26 Universit
government and the 1954 vote to fir
entertainment indus- Nickerso
try, University histo- Spring Regents o
ry Prof. Nicholas 1990 to acknow
Steneck said it is not
surprising that they Fall Davis, M
seeped into higher 199 lecture or
"There was a deepr
concern about theT
influence of commu-
nism on education at
all levels," Steneck.
said. "If you're con-
Communists are influencing the country, the first
place you are going to look is the government and
then you're going to look to education.
"(The University of Michigan) is a prominent
University and we were looked to as a result (of
that)," Steneck said.
The allegations made their way to the
University in the fall of 1953 when former
University Vice President and Dean of Faculties
Marvin Niehuss was notified by HUAC that more
than half a dozen University faculty members
were going to be subpoenaed to testify before the
Steneck said Niehuss traveled to Washington to
negotiate with the committee to reduce the num-
ber of faculty subpoenaed.
"I told the FBI that I would cooperate with them
ifkc,- hA ,n nv"eiAnce- but I certainlu didn't unt
The five were questioned by U.S. Sen. Kit
Clardy (R-Mich.) and other members of the com-
mittee in May 1954.
Markert, Nickerson, Sharpe and Shaffer all
refused to answer questions about their political
activity, pleading the Fifth Amendment, which pro-
tects individuals from testifying against themselves.
"I didn't want to talk about anything substan-
tive before the Clardy committee because, in my
view, the government is mine, represents me and
has no right to ask me about my political opinions
or actions, so I refused categorically to answer any
of their questions, pleading the Fifth
Amendment," Markert said in the 1988 video-
taped interview with Kulakow.
Davis, taking a unique and somewhat risky
stand, refused to answer questions about his polit-
ical activity, claiming it was a violation of his First
"My reason for not answering is not because of
a blemish in my past," Davis told The Michigan
Daily in 1953. "Not the answers, but the questions
and the way they were asked were at fault."
Ellen Schrecker, a history professor at Yeshiva
University in New York and the author of "No
Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the University,"
said many people thought that pleading the Fifth
Amendment was a "safer" option for an answer
because it often protected a person from being
asked to name other people who were involved in
the same activities. Schrecker used the
University's situation as the central focus of her
"By 1950, most of the citizens who didn't want
to cooperate with the committee used the Fifth,"
Schrecker said that between 1953 and 1954,
people began to rethink what they were doing in.
front of the government committee, and some
s and two
d by members
s and releases the
ckerson, and Prof.
y Board of Regents
e both Davis and
/ledge the firings.
refused to answer the
questions under protection
of the First Amendment.
Schrecker said Davis
was fully aware that
pleading the First
Amendment was risky
because there was a
greater chance of being
found in contempt of
"He knew that "he was
risking jail ... he did it
very consciously to
become a test case," she
Shortly after the hear-
President Harlan Hatcher
issued a statement that
called for the immediate
suspension of the three
instructors "without loss of
pay from all duties and
connections to the
"If you take such an
amendment, you say to the
public there is some reason
why you have to do this,
and that leaves the
University with the ques-
tion 'Do you ignore this or
do you take notice with
that,"' Hatcher said in the
1988 videotaped interview
with Kulakow. "In the pro-
cedure that we had, this was
something that we simply
could not ignore."
ing examples such as Hatcher's close
relationship with the Eisenhower admin-
istration and his strong support of military
Davis said the faculty treated him well during
the hearings and after the suspension.
"There was nobody who tried to ostracize me
or Markert as nasty Reds," Davis said. "People
were nice to us and the press was pretty reason-
Reaction on campus
Although there were no massive student
protests against the suspensions, Shaffer said he
doesn't remember feeling unsupported by stu-
"We generally had good support from the stu-
dents," Shaffer said.
However, on May 20, 1954, the University's
Student Legislature voted down a motion con-
demning the faculty suspensions,
History Prof. Sidney Fine said he remembers
the campus being "pretty tame" at that time.
"The faculty may have been upset, but there was
little in the way of student protest that I can recall,"
Davis agreed that the campus was "relatively
"It was somewhat liberal, it's just that the num-
ber of people who were politically active was very
small," Davis said. "The reason was because
everyone knew the ax was going to fall."
Davis said that a group of students protested the
suspension in the spring of 1954, but that the end
of the school year diverted student attention away
from' the suspensions.
Hatcher, claiming the professors had raised seri-
ous doubts concerning their ability to serve as
instructors by refusing to answer questions regard-
ing their political activity, created an ad-hoc com-
mittee composed of University faculty to conduct
University hearings of the three suspended instruc-
In early August 1954, prior to the hearings,
Hatcher sent Davis a letter stating his intentions to
remove the instructor from the University. Shortly
after receiving the letter, Davis was indicted by
the federal government for contempt of Congress.
During the ad-hoc committee investigations in
mid-August, Davis refused to answer questions
about his political history, while Markert and
Nickerson discussed their political involvement.
"I discussed things about my lecturing and
about my teaching and so forth and they didn't
want to hear about them," Davis said. "They just
wanted to know if I was a Red."
The committee recommended that the
University fire Davis and retain Markert and
"The committee was somewhat reassured with
their answers and they were quite angry with me,"
But Hatcher, with the urgings of then-pharma-
cology chair Maurice Seevers, decided to send
both Davis and Nickerson before the faculty's
Senate Advisory Committee's Subcommittee on
Intellectual Freedom and Integrity. Hatcher ended
Markert's suspension and Markert returned to the
classroom the next fall.
The subcommittee voted to fire Davis and retain
Nickerson. Once again, at the recommendation of
Seevers, Hatcher decided to fire both
Davis and Nickerson, pending
approval by the University's
Board of Regents.
The case went before the board
at the end of August. The regents
voted in agreement with Hatcher,
and both Davis and Nickerson were
fired from their positions at the
Davis unsuccessfully appealed
the federal case and in 1960 spent
six months in a federal correc-
tion institute in
Connecticut for con-
tempt of Congress.
Davis said he was
ed in the United
States and was
unable to find a per-
manent job in high-
er education. He
later moved to
Canada where he
Nickerson also moved to
Canada, where he has taught and served as
president of the Pharmacological Society of
Canada and the American Society for
Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
Markert left the University and accepted an
offer to teach at Johns Hopkins University.
Schrecker said Markert's case was very rare.
"Usually someone who took the Fifth and did-
n't have tenure was let go," Schrecker said, noting
that Markert was most likely retained because he
had strong support from his department and was
academically respected. "It's possible that the
administration realized that there would be trou-
ble if he were let go."
The University's involvement in the Red Scare
was recalled in 1989 when the University of
Michigan Chapter of the American Association of
University Professors endorsed a statement
requesting a significant gesture of reconciliation
for the three professors. The Senate Assembly
endorsed it and presented it to the regents in the
spring of 1990.
Davis said the senate proposed a weak agenda
so the regents would "just think about it and that's
all." Although it was put on the regent's agenda,
the senate's proposal never made it to the table.
Former University Regent Thomas Roach said
the proposal might have been recognized had it
been raised in a different context.
"It really was the faculty who made the deci-
sion (in 1954)," Roach said."The idea in 1990 that
this was something that the regents had done
(then) ... was completely contrary to the facts."
In 1990, the Senate Assembly established the
Markert, Davis, Nickerson Lecture on Academic
Freedom and Intellectual Freedom in honor of the
Steneck said he thinks the lecture series is an
appropriate way to honor the professors.
"It isn't easy to decide what the correct course
of action is regarding academic freedom when
sensitive issues were involved," Steneck said.
Hatcher said he does not believe the University
owes the professors an apology and he wouldn't
change anything about how the University han-
dled the investigations.
"We had a complete line of actions set out for
this thing by the American Association of
University Professors and I followed their program
along with the regents' approval," Hatcher said.
Davis said he does not regret his actions during
any of the hearings.
"I think it's rather ironic that these committees
of my senior faculty members found me unfit to
belong to their community on the basis that I
might ... not be a friend of free speech because'
what they were essentially saying was that we will
suppress you on the hypothesis that some other
time ... you might suppress someone else," Davis
said. "In other words, they were convicting me of
doing, essentially, what they were doing them-
selves at that moment."
Kaplan still contends that the whole investiga-
tion was completely improper and that the lecture
series only serves as a substitute for an apology.
"We keep hoping that the regents will someday
change their mind and (apologize)," Kaplan said.
"The purpose (of the lecture) is to keep it fresh in
people's mind, but that doesn't solve it."
Division of colleagues
Although the majority of the faculty kept their
opinions of the suspensions to themselves, those
who were vocal were divided on the issue.
Shortly after the suspensions, more than'200
University faculty members put their names on a
paid advertisement in the Daily that stated their
belief that "competence should be the criterion for
.. evaluating personnel, and that personal beliefs,
unless they are demonstrated to interfere with a
man's ability to teach objectively, should not enter
Mathematics Prof. Emertis Wilfred Kaplan said
the faculty was very sharply divided, citing that the
majority of faculty members in the Literary College
were opposed to the suspensions while those in the
Srhon lf Medicine g'enerallv sunnorted them.