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Lerg, Charlotte A. (2018): Academic Freedom In America: Gilded Age Beginnings And World War I Legacies. In: Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Vol. 17, No. 4: pp. 691-703


The early decades of the twentieth century proved pivotal for defining academic freedom in America. The challenges of World War I ultimately strengthened the use and understanding of the concept specifically for the U.S. context. During the last third of the nineteenth century, a number of developments in higher learning had converged. bringing academic independence urgently to the forefront. Growth and professionalization meant a new role for universities in American society;big-business philanthropy saw sciences flourish, but it also introduced a new market-orientated organization to college administration. Gilded Age and Progressive Era debates over individual rights, social responsibilities, and public and political capital caused much controversy on campuses across the country. German academic institutions, long cherished models in U.S.reform-rhetoric, had begun to lose their appeal, and by 1914, they were fully discredited. Hence, even before the United States entered into the conflict, World War I forced the academic community to define their position between society, government, and professional ethos. During this process, two very different notions of academic freedom emerged: one favoring individual liberties, the other one prioritizing institutional integrity. These distinctive and potentially adverse interpretations continued to function as the basis for legal and public arguments as the twentieth century progressed.