Document 25: Cold War on the Campus

Jane Sanders, Cold War on the Campus: Academic Freedom at the University of Washington (1979), vi-vii.

Back to Document Concordance

As one of the values distinctive to a university and to the academic profession, academic freedom can be defined as the right of teachers, researchers, and students to an atmosphere in which they may freely investigate and discuss whatever it is they are interested in, an atmosphere conducive to disinterested scholarship and characterized by a lack of inhibiting pressures or restraints from colleagues, the administration, the state, or other outside agents. As the history of education in the United States shows, it is only since World War I that administrators generally have come to respect the right of faculty academic freedom, and its parameters have always been subject to dispute. Violations of the principle are most likely to occur during times of social crisis, when the activities of teachers are perceived as either sustaining or undermining majority morale and beliefs. Regents and administrators, in their eagerness to promote a sober image of their institution, may be inclined to sacrifice individuals whose teachings or writings threaten that image. Likewise, faculty members rely on academic freedom as a buffer against intolerant or intemperate majority opinion, as a tool to preserve their position, and as an instrument of status and power in academic battles. Academic freedom issues thus may cause strains between the university and society, between administrators and faculty, and within the faculty itself. In the Cold War era under consideration, Communist and left-wing activities by . . . faculty members posed such an issue.

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest