Introduction to H. Chandler Davis

Against the Current, No. 204, January/February 2020

Alan Wald

H. CHANDLER DAVIS (b. 1926), a world-renowned mathematician and noted science fiction author, is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto. In 1954, Davis was one of several faculty members suspended from the University of Michigan (U-M) in Ann Arbor after refusing to co-operate with the hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities that were held in Lansing.

When Davis further declined to answer questions about his personal political views to U-M committees, he was one of those summarily fired. Inasmuch as Davis had pleaded the First Amendment rather than the more common Fifth Amendment, he served a federal prison sentence for Contempt of Congress.

Along with those who had chosen to take the Fifth Amendment, he was blacklisted from teaching in the United States. In 1962 Davis and his wife, the early modern historian Natalie Zemon Davis, relocated to Canada.

In 1990, following a revival of interest in the case of Davis and others who has been suspended (the biologist Clement Markert and pharmacologist Mark Nickerson), the Senate Advisory Committee of the University of Michigan sought to convince the Regents to make amends in some fashion. When this failed, an annual “Davis-Markert-Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom” was established, and has been held every year since then.

On October 27, 2019, Henry F. Reichman, chair of the American Association of University Professors Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, delivered a talk in this series on “Do Adjuncts Have Academic Freedom?, or Why Tenure Matters.”

For that occasion Davis, the only survivor among the suspended U-M faculty, returned to U-M as he has for all earlier lectures.

Among his primary concerns for the past year has been the mistreatment of two U-M teachers — Associate Professor John Cheney-Lippold and Lecturer Lucy Peterson — who were variously sanctioned by the U-M administration in October 2018 for their decision to honor the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) against the Israeli state and for Palestinian rights by declining to write letters of support on behalf of students wishing to attend Israeli universities. (For a detailed report of these events, see “Disciplined for Acting with Integrity,” Against the Current 198, January-February 2019.)

Thus Davis chose to issue the following statement, originally submitted to the Michigan Daily (but not published), which we are reprinting here.

January-February 2020, ATC 204

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