Unfettered Expression: Freedom in American Intellectual Life
Chemerinsky, Erwin, Academe
Peggie J. Hollingsworth, ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000, 192 pp.
IN THE FIRST WEEK OF APRIL 2001, the University of Southern California arrested a student for distributing leaflets outside the university bookstore. The student's handbills protested the sale of USC apparel that was made in sweatshops and by slave labor. The message obviously was uncomfortable to the university, so it reacted as institutions often do when they don't like the speech: it tried to silence the speaker. The student now faces university disciplinary charges and possibly criminal prosecution for not heeding an order from a university security officer to stop doing something that was classic peaceful free-speech activity.
The reality is that universities and other institutions often feel the desire to stop and to punish speech that they and others dislike.
Sometimes the censorship efforts are defended in the noblest of terms, such as to preserve American democracy during the McCarthy era or to advance equality in enacting hate-speech codes in the 1990s. Universities, of course, are not unique in this impulse to censor. But the dedication to freedom of expression is perhaps the greatest in colleges and universities where there is a professed commitment to academic freedom.
Unfettered Expression: Freedom in American Intellectual Life, edited by Peggie Hollingsworth, is a fascinating collection of essays on various aspects of academic freedom. The book consists of a series of lectures delivered on the topic at the University of Michigan over a ten-year period. The origin of the lecture series, described by Hollingsworth in the first chapter, is one of the most interesting and compelling aspects of the book. During the McCarthy era, three University of Michigan professors were suspended and two of them were ultimately fired for invoking their constitutional rights and refusing to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee. The book begins movingly with a photograph and biography of each: H. Chandler Davis, Clement L. Markert, and Mark Nickerson. Strikingly, and this is not explicitly mentioned elsewhere in the book, their biographies show that each went on to great success at other universities in their respective fields of mathematics, biology, and pharmacology.
In 1990 the faculty senate at the University of Michigan resolved to create a lecture series named after these three men. The book consists of the nine lectures delivered between 1991 and 1999 as the University of Michigan Senate's Davis, Markers, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom. The nine lecturers include First Amendment scholars Robert O'Neil and Lee Bollinger; history professors Walter Metzger, Roger Wilkins, and David Hollinger; a federal judge, Avern Cohn; and a former managing editor of the New York Times, Eugene Roberts. One of the most powerful essays is by Catharine Stimpson, university professor and dean of the graduate school at New York University, who recounts her own tenure fight in which opposition to her was based on her political views and her sexuality.
The book has all of the virtues and all of the flaws to be expected of a collection of essays. …