To the Editor:
I thoroughly enjoyed Derek Bok essay, “Why Americans Love to Hate Harvard” (The Chronicle Review, January 4.) However, I was struck by his statement in the 13th paragraph:
“In 1957, Justice Felix Frankfurter, concurring with a majority of the Supreme Court, set forth what he described as the four essential freedoms of a university: to decide who will teach, what they should teach, how they will teach, and who should be admitted to study.”
He then goes on to reference the words of Justice Frankfurter three more times. Now, while it is a fact that the eminent Supreme Court Justice did indeed invoke these words in Sweezy v. New Hampshire, the true origin of the statement was by Dr. Thomas B. Davie, who was appointed vice-chancellor (i.e. president) of the University of Cape Town in 1948. As I highlighted in my biography of Nobel Laureate Allan Cormack, this is what Davie stated a few years before the 1957 case in the United States:
“Academic freedom consists of four fundamental freedoms. These are the freedom of the university to determine without outside pressure or force what to teach, whom to teach, how to teach, and who shall teach. It is only by fighting that liberty was ever attained or maintained.”
The primacy of Dr. Davie’s statement, and its adoption by Justice Frankfurter, has been acknowledged by two legal scholars, Jeremy Gauntlett in South Africa, and J. Peter Byrne in the USA.
From a historical perspective, it’s important to appreciate that the Nationalist Party came to power in the same year that Davie was appointed — 1948 — and immediately set about implementing their policy of apartheid, or “separate development.” He was adamant that the university should be allowed to admit students, and hire academic staff, irrespective of their skin color.
Sadly, Davie passed away in 1955 aged just 58, but he left behind an outstanding legacy as a principled academic leader. After his death, the University of Capetwon established the TB Davie Memorial Lecture on Academic Freedom, delivered on an annual basis, a fitting tribute to a man whose words inspired a United States Supreme Court justice.
Christopher L. Vaughan
Professor Emeritus of Biomedical Engineering
University of Cape Town