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Academia's Golden AgeUniversities in Massachusetts, 1945-1970$
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Richard M. Freeland

Print publication date: 1992

Print ISBN-13: 9780195054644

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195054644.001.0001

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The World Transformed: A Golden Age for American Universities, 1945-1970

The World Transformed: A Golden Age for American Universities, 1945-1970

(p.70) Chapter Two The World Transformed: A Golden Age for American Universities, 1945-1970
Academia's Golden Age

Richard M. Freeland

Oxford University Press

In the years following World War II, academic leaders in Massachusetts participated in a national debate about the social role of higher education in the era that lay ahead. They also experienced the beginnings of a period of expansion for universities that would continue, more or less uninterrupted, for twenty-five years. Change in this postwar golden age involved an ongoing interaction between ideas and opportunities: the first concerning the public purposes of higher education; the second promising glory for institutions and advancement for academic interest groups. For most of the period, the dominant view—inside and outside of higher education—was that expansion was improving the academy as well as the country, but the turmoil of the late 1960s raised fundamental doubts about the character of postwar change. Although World War II entailed difficulties for universities, their extensive involvement in the military effort stirred a new awareness of the social importance of academic work. This habit of thought extended into the postwar period, as educators, exhilarated by wartime patriotism, looked for new ways to contribute to social problem solving. As they did so, they exhibited a further effect of their recent experience: a tendency to focus on national concerns—as distinct from regional or local ones—far more intensively than they had done before 1940. The country's agenda was long. The human costs of the war, and the even more-frightening possibility of atomic conflict, made the importance of maintaining peace evident. Europe had precipitated two wars in a generation and now lay in ruins. The United States, suddenly the preeminent power of the globe, would have to pioneer in shaping a stable world order. In some, the nation's new international prominence aroused a sense of urgency about discrimination and inequality at home. More broadly, world leadership implied a need to maintain military and economic power and the technological vitality on which they depended. Many educators believed they had important roles to play in all these contexts—through training leaders, forming attitudes, and advancing knowledge. As one college president put it: “Events... have shaken the complacency of many university communities and compelled educators to... make [their] maximum contribution to a decent, well-ordered, free and peaceful society.”

Keywords:   Cold War, Ford Foundation, Newman, Frank, Vietnam War, Accreditation, Bell Labs, Carnegie Corporation, New Deal, Presidents

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