Abstract

This article compares episodes in two historical moments in the United States, the 1960s and the present, to interrogate how public universities have responded to culture war issues and pressure from powerful political actors. It recounts how in Florida the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated a culture war over education and speech related to race and how the University of Florida capitulated to an ambitious governor ultimately bent on synchronizing Florida's university system to his political goals. To highlight the singularity of this episode, the article compares these events with another instance when a governor pressured university leadership over a culture war issue, during the heated era of 1960s protests over racism and imperialism. In 1969 Charles E. Young, chancellor of UCLA, publicly opposed the California regents and Governor Ronald Reagan when they sought to fire a young philosophy professor, Angela Y. Davis, over her communist party membership. Both recent events in Florida and the campaign to dismiss Davis turned on questions of academic freedom. This article explores the conditions that allowed Young to more successfully defend his university's autonomy and concludes that the privatized conception of the neoliberal university's social value makes contemporary universities particularly susceptible to political interference and antidemocratic co-optation.

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