The University Record, March 25, 1998

Learn from lessons of women's suffrage, Roberts says

Chandler Davis marked the passing of colleague Mark Nickerson March 13. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

Eugene Roberts delivered the 8th Academic Freedom Lecture. Photo by Bob Kalmbach


By Kerry Colligan

"Colleges and universities should be the citadels of inquiry and debate," Eugene Roberts said to a full-house at the eighth annual Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom March 16. Roberts' lecture, "Free Speech, Free Press: Free Society," was given in honor of three former U-M professors forced from their posts in the McCarthy-era.

At the University of Maryland in 1993, Roberts said, 10,000 copies of the student newspaper The Diamondback were taken from distribution points on campus. The papers were replaced with a flyer reading "Due to its racist nature, The Diamondback will not be available today. Read a book." This kind of destruction of campus newspapers has abated in the last five years, Roberts said, but has not ceased.

Roberts, professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, asked the audience to consider why it is that in the last 15 months, publications have been seized, burned or both at the universities of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, California-Berkeley and Cornell.

Remember the battles fought by the women's suffrage movement, he said. In 1914 Alice Paul organized a picketing of the White House. She and her supporters carried placards with statements like: "We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts, for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments," Roberts said.

Such a militant stance did not come without criticism, he added. Newspapers throughout the country published articles and editorials expressing a feeling that "[the suffragists] are in general a threat to the American way of life and to the orderly democratic process," according to Roberts. "Their behavior demonstrated a breach of good manners."

Again, Roberts asked the audience to take note of the lessons learned during the women's suffrage movement. "We are protecting ourselves and our causes when we express our opinions," he said. "We must learn this on our campuses."

Roberts has been a champion for openness in journalism throughout his career, President Lee C. Bollinger said in his introduction. Roberts set the highest possible journalistic standards while pushing for open city council and school board meetings, as well as open courtrooms. "The university community must be committed to that kind of openness of discourse, research and teaching," Bollinger added.

The lecture honors professors Chandler Davis, Clement Markert and Mark Nickerson. In 1954, the three were called to testify before the Congressional Committee on Un-American Activities. After refusing to answer questions about their political associations, all three were suspended. Eventually, Nickerson and Davis were dismissed from the University.

Davis was in attendance for Roberts' lecture and offered a few introductory comments. He marked the passing of Nickerson on March 13 and President Emeritus Harlan H. Hatcher. "To Harlan Hatcher I say," Davis concluded, "you punished dissent. You were not weak. You were not misguided. You were wrong. That is not the same thing. And to Mark Nickerson . . . I say farewell."

The lecture is sponsored by the Academic Freedom Lecture Fund, the Ann Arbor chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and the Michigan Journalism Fellows Program.