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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois in the Cold War Era 1945-1975: Academic Freedom and Free Speech

Conflict over Academic Freedom and Free Speech at Illinois

Conflict over Academic Freedom and Free Speech at U of I: Overview

As relations with the USSR became tense in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the United States placed more attention on the political and intellectual threat of communist ideology.  Anti-communism developed initially through the government’s efforts to root out the perceived influence of a hostile governments on U.S. society.  However, this struggle against ‘communism’ rapidly expanded into a wholesale attack on a multitude of organizations and individuals who identified on the left of the American political spectrum.  Moreover, these ideological campaigns amounted to an erosion of democratic ideal of free speech. 

As public institutions ostensibly predicated on the free exchange of ideas, state universities became key battlegrounds over the limits of free speech in Cold War America.  At the University of Illinois, these conflicts became increasingly acute as the legislation initiated by Paul Broyles and Charles Clabaugh in the late-1940s imposed restrictions on the political activities and loyalties of both students and faculty.  While these laws stifled open discussion on campus, by the 1960s the authority of these regulations began to diminish in the eyes of students.  Inspired by the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and other college campuses, U of I students began demanding their right to speech on campus, and in particular their right to speak out against the Vietnam War.  Despite the gains of students and faculty with respect to political speech, some subjects, such as sexuality, remained taboo on campus.  The dismissal of Prof. Leo Koch for defending premarital sex made evident the bounds of acceptable speech that remained into the 1960s.