THE NDEA, LOYALTY, AND COMMUNITY: RESISTANCE AT TWO LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGES
Botti, John McDonough
MetadataShow full item record
As part of the effort to supply "brainpower" for the American cold war effort, the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958 provided a loan program to aid under-resourced postsecondary students. Elements of the NDEA story--the increased federal financial support for higher education; the rhetorical and practical affiliation of schooling, national security, and patriotism; and the easy relationship between an irresistible military-industrial complex and a compliant academic culture--seem to support conventional narratives of post-World War II society and higher education. These narratives hold that the combined forces of research funding and a cold war discourse which demanded conformity often co-opted and reshaped the institutional purposes of American universities. Rejecting the shorthand that "higher education" in the twentieth century was synonymous with the experience of elite research universities, and that significant American institutions generally complied with and even promoted cold war security and defense policies, allows stories unaccounted for in traditional historical narratives to emerge. In the case of the NDEA, two small liberal arts colleges--Swarthmore and Haverford--took a leading role in refusing federal monies offered by the legislation, in protest of an attached disclaimer affidavit. This affidavit was part of a loyalty provision in the legislation which required aid recipients to disclaim membership in or support of "subversive" organizations. From the first, this provision was a point of controversy among collegiate faculties and administrators, who saw in the affidavit a political test that imperiled nascent concepts of academic freedom, and also established dangerous precedent that could influence the direction of future education bills. While resistance eventually galvanized among many schools nationwide--and though higher profile institutions such as Harvard and Yale would ultimately emerge as its public faces--much of the initial example of dissent was promulgated by the non-participation of Swarthmore and Haverford. The example of the purpose and community identity articulated by these two schools during the NDEA controversy suggests the possibility of reclaiming narrative space for the residential liberal arts college in the history of cold war higher education, and perhaps in the present day as well.