Curriculum Wars and Cold War Politics: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Higher Education
AbstractDuring the early 1960s, in the formative years of Florida's newest university, the University of South Florida located in Tampa, the Florida Investigative Committee in true McCarthy-era style, set up its "Star Chamber" interviews with students and "others" at local motels near the University. The purpose of these "interviews" was to ferret out information about university administrators and instructors which would point to either their innocence or their guilt in terms of communist party membership, homosexuality, or the teaching of atheism. After an exhaustive process which left the intellectual community on Florida's West Coast shaken and dismayed at what it collectively believed was a misguided mission and waste of taxpayer dollars, academic communities in other university towns throughout Florida responded with outrage over the intrusion of politicians and perceived anti-intellectuals into the "business" of higher education. Some had already run the investigative committee's gauntlet, others likely feared they would follow. In what could have resulted in the sudden demise of the infant university, its leaders and faculty emerged from the experience, not as victors, but rather as survivors of a bitter battle over academic freedom. This study serves to fill the growing body of research on the McCarthy era and its influence on education. It will cover as a case study the entire struggle of the university over the issue of academic freedom and the attempts of "well-meaning" citizens to control what is taught and in what way it is taught at the most sacred of investigative places—the university.