The University Record, October 8, 1996

Avern Cohn will deliver 6th academic freedom lecture

Avern Cohn, U.S. district judge, Eastern District of Michigan, will deliver the Sixth Annual Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom at 7 p.m. Oct. 21 in Mendelssohn Theater.

He will discuss "Academic Freedom: A Trial Judge's View."

In recent years, Cohn has ruled in several cases concerned with First Amendment issues that involved the University, one of which challenged an early version of the code of student behavior and another that dealt with a student who published his creative writings on the Internet.

According to law Prof. Theodore St. Antoine, who also is former dean of the Law School, Cohn "is one of the most scholarly judges on the federal bench and immensely popular with law students when he meets with them on his not infrequent visits to the Law School."

Cohn has indicated that he will "talk about the University in court---about cases involving assertions of academic freedom," especially as it related to the student behavior code.

Not only the U-M, but universities around the country "have lost code cases because they didn't fully appreciate the significance of the First Amendment," Cohn says.

"Prior to the 1960s, the First Amendment wasn't thought of as protecting students or faculty. In fact, the Supreme Court never used the term `academic freedom' until it appeared in a dissent in 1952. The Supreme Court has never said that academic freedom is a civil right, however."

The First Amendment is now held to apply to public universities largely as a result of the Warren Court's expansion of civil rights generally, says Cohn, who adds that his lecture will trace key cases and controversies involving universities and civil liberties, beginning with the U-M Regents' dismissal of President Henry Tappan in 1863.

The annual lecture is named for three U-M faculty members---Chandler Davis, Clement Markert and Mark Nickerson---who in 1954 were called to testify before a Congressional Committee on Un-American Activities. All invoked constitutional rights and refused to answer questions about their political associations.

The three were suspended from the University, with subsequent hearings and committee actions resulting in the reinstatement of Markert and the dismissal of Davis and Nickerson, who held tenure.

The lecture is sponsored by the Academic Freedom Fund, Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and the American Association of University Professors-Michigan Chapter.

For information, contact the Faculty Senate Office, 764-0303, or send e-mail to