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Updated 10:00 AM October 31, 2007




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ACLU president to deliver academic freedom lecture

Janet Jackson's Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction in 2004 sparked a backlash that caused a New York radio station to cancel a 50th anniversary reading of legendary beat poet Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." And the climate to restrict expression has not subsided, says Nadine Strossen, the first woman elected president of the American Civil Liberties Union.
(Photo courtesy Nadine Strossen)

Strossen says such trends concern those who value freedom of speech. She will address the theme "Defending Freedom: Even for the Thoughts We Hate," in the 17th annual Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom at 4 p.m. Nov. 9 at Honigman Auditorium in the Law School.

"There has been a crackdown on four-letter words that don't even have a sexual reference at all," Strossen says. "Some are trying to extend it to Internet, cable, satellite and every other mass medium, as well."

Strossen, professor of law at New York Law School, has written, lectured and practiced extensively in the areas of constitutional law, civil liberties and international human rights. In 1991 she took the helm of the ACLU, the nation's largest and oldest civil liberties organization. Since the ACLU presidency is a non-paid position, Strossen also continues her faculty work.

Strossen, who makes roughly 200 public presentations per year, says the Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture series is one-of-a-kind. "I am not aware of another (lecture series) on academic freedom. That is unique. I am happy to be involved honoring courageous former faculty members."

The lecture series was established in 1990 by the Senate Advisory Committee for University Affairs (SACUA) to honor three University faculty members — Chandler Davis, Clement Markert and Mark Nickerson — who in 1954 were called to testify before the Congressional Committee on Un-American Activities. All invoked Constitutional rights and refused to answer committee questions about their political associations. As a result, the three were suspended and Nickerson was denied the summer portion of his fiscal year salary. Subsequent hearings and committee actions resulted in different outcomes. Markert was reinstated while Nickerson, a tenured professor, and Davis were dismissed from the University.

Peggie Hollingsworth, president of the U-M Academic Freedom Lecture Fund, says, "Nadine Strossen has had a central role in the national debate over whether hate speech should be tolerated on our campuses and elsewhere in society. Hate speech is a topic that has been addressed by many of the Davis, Markert, Nickerson lecturers, starting with the first two, Robert O'Neil and Lee Bollinger.

"Because the lecture series focuses on contemporary issues related to academic and intellectual freedom and because the annual lecturers have been outstanding First Amendment scholars, over the past 17 years the Davis, Markert, Nickerson lecture has come to be a major annual event at the University of Michigan."

The National Law Journal has named Strossen one of America's 100 Most Influential Lawyers. More than 250 of Strossen's writings have appeared in scholarly and general interest publications.

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