University of North Carolina professor Gene Nichol will speak on “outside political interference with academic freedom and university-based freedom of speech” when he delivers the 28th annual Davis, Markert, and Nickerson Academic Freedom Lecture.

The talk, “Academic Freedom, New Politics, Old School Censorship, and Meaningful Constitutional Review,” will take place at 4 p.m. Nov. 28 in Hutchins Hall. Nichol is the Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law at UNC.

Photo of Gene Nichol
Gene Nichol

Nichol was the director of the UNC Poverty Center until it was closed in 2015 by the Board of Governors for publishing articles critical of the governor and General Assembly, according to UNC School of Law’s website. Since then, the N.C. Poverty Research Fund has supported his research.

Previously, in his tenure as president of the College of William and Mary from 2005-08, Nichol’s decision to remove the campus chapel’s cross from permanent display came under fire, according to The Washington Post. At the time, Nichol said he wanted to make the chapel welcoming to all, and that he wanted to separate church and state.

Nichol said that in his lecture he will explore state interference with research, publication and inquiry designed to explore or challenge the efficacy of government programs and practices.

“Such restrictions, of course, sin against both our public academic institutions and our appropriately heralded form of government,” he said. “They are more significant than one would suppose in 2018. And public universities, even strong ones, are less well positioned to resist them than they ought to be.”

Presented by the Faculty Senate, the annual lecture is named for three former U-M faculty members — Chandler Davis, Clement Markert and Mark Nickerson — who invoked their constitutional rights when called to testify before a panel of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954. All three were suspended from U-M. Markert subsequently was reinstated, and Davis and Nickerson were dismissed.

“(The lecture) is an important reminder that we can’t take academic freedom for granted, that we need to keep it top of mind and make sure the faculty are aware that this is a right that needs to be attended to, preserved, protected,” said Joy Beatty, vice chair of the Faculty Senate, Senate Assembly and Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs.

A committee made up of members from the Faculty Senate and the Academic Freedom Lecture Fund selected Nichol to deliver this year’s lecture.

“Gene Nichol has seen academic and intellectual freedom from a number of angles,” said Gary Krenz, director of post-bicentennial planning at the Bentley Historical Library, adjunct lecturer in philosophy at LSA, and member of the selection committee.

“As a thinker, he has studied and written about it. As a university administrator, he has been in several instances in the position of having to defend it, and as a researcher, he has experienced its violation.”

In addition to his presidency at William & Mary, Nichol also was law dean at the University of Colorado from 1988-95, and dean of the Chapel Hill School of Law at UNC from 1999-2005.

He is the author of “The Faces of Poverty in North Carolina: Stories from Our Invisible Citizens,” and “Federal Courts.” He has published articles in the Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Duke, California and Virginia law reviews.

He has received several honors, including UNC’s Thomas Jefferson Award and the American Bar Association’s Edward Finch Award. Nichol attended Oklahoma State University, where he received a degree in philosophy, and obtained his law degree from the University of Texas in 1973.

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