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UT professor speaks out for academic freedom

August
13
1945

On this day in 1945, the student committee on academic freedom at the University of Texas at Austin invited Henry Nash Smith to deliver a paper on "The Controversy at the University of Texas, 1939-1945." The paper documented the numerous incidents which would later cause him to leave the university. Smith was born in Dallas in 1906 and entered Southern Methodist University in 1922. He received an M.A. from Harvard in 1927, then returned to SMU as a teacher in 1927 and served as chief editor of the Southwest Review from 1927 until 1937. In 1932 Smith was fired from the English department at SMU because of a preface he wrote to William Faulkner's Miss Zilphia Gant, which was published in Dallas by the Book Club of Texas and which the department chairman considered obscene. The firing caused such an uproar that the president of the university arranged for Smith to teach in the newly organized comparative literature department instead. Smith received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1940. In 1941 he went to the University of Texas at Austin as professor of English and of American History. A close friend of J. Frank Dobie, he was happy with his colleagues and his students there, but the turmoil over academic freedom during and after World War II caused him to leave. After leaving UT, he taught at the University of Minnesota and the University of California at Berkeley before retiring in 1974.

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