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The National Defense Education Act, the American Association of University Professors and the dilemma of academic freedom in the mid-twentieth century

Wang Huimin (Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 5 November 2020

Issue publication date: 13 May 2021

126

Abstract

Purpose

This study asks how American institutions of higher education defended the principles of academic freedom (or intellectual autonomy) during the 1950s, even as they became increasingly dependent on the federal government's financial support, their eligibility for which required an oath of political loyalty under the terms of the National Defense Education Act of 1958. Universities whose students or professors resisted the oath faced a dilemma of institutional governance as well as intellectual integrity during the early years of the Cold War.

Design/methodology/approach

The study draws on documentary and archival sources, including the Congressional Record, the AAUP Bulletin, student pamphlets, newspapers and other publications of the US federal government, and on secondary sources.

Findings

The author finds that the US federal government began to invest heavily in higher education during the 1950s, but financial support was often accompanied by political oversight. Higher education institutions and their professors struggled to reconcile a sense of responsibility for national service with a desire for academic freedom. The findings show how the federal government treated institutions of higher education and dealt with the issue of academic freedom during the Cold War.

Originality/value

This study draws on a large pool of primary sources and previous research to offer new insights into an enduring ideological tension between academic freedom, public service and financial patronage.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This paper is supported by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities.

Citation

Wang, H. (2021), "The National Defense Education Act, the American Association of University Professors and the dilemma of academic freedom in the mid-twentieth century", History of Education Review, Vol. 50 No. 1, pp. 67-79. https://doi.org/10.1108/HER-10-2019-0043

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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