Academic Freedom at UIUC: Communism and University Politics

Written by Nick Hopkins

Intellectual exploration has been a central tenant of secondary education in the United States and at the University of Illinois for their duration. UIUC’s nearly 150-year history has been punctuated by points of conflict between university administration, faculty, and students concerning academic freedom. These differences correspond to larger historical events and societal tensions. Documents at the Student Life and Culture Archives provide insight into university life during the early Cold War period and evidence specific disagreements around academic freedom at the university.

The Clabaugh Act and the Broyles Bills, passed in 1947 and 1949 respectively, demonstrate that university policy is subject to forces outside of the university. UIUC operates under the purview of the Illinois State Legislature and is intimately connected to state legislators. The Clabaugh Act, proposed by State Representative Charles Clabaugh of Champaign, was intended to restrict so-called communist student groups on campus. The bill explicitly prevented the University of Illinois from allowing “any subversive, seditious, and un-American organization, or to its representatives”[1] to use its facilities. This policy was aimed at groups such as American Youth for Democracy and Young Progressives of America, but applied to others as well.

It fell to the UIUC Security Office, formed in 1946 to enforce this mandate among students and to “investigate possible subversive activities.”[2] Clabaugh himself influenced these actions, endorsing the Security Office in public statements. The Security Office’s own protocol for investigation was

    1. Any statement or action termed even the slightly subversive or “pink” is filed.
    2. If no other statements or actions follow, then the subject is dropped.
    3. If, however, continuous actions or statements are made and I (Dean Fred Turner) believe the person or group to have any indication of subversive tendencies, then the name is reported to proper federal agencies for action.[3]

It is easy to see how these relative qualifications led to a good deal of finger-pointing and accusation. American Youth for Democracy, whose programming mainly consisted of hosting academic lectures on campus, was one such target. In reply to a 1948 Daily Illini article they stated, “Academic freedom is one of the basic tenets of American democracy. The Daily Illini has called for the disbanding of the Illini AYD. If this call is heeded it will mean the beginning of the end of academic freedom on our campus.”[4]

Students Against Clabaugh Act Newsletter, 1967. Found in record series 41/6/840

Students were not the only targets of anti-communist fears and restricted free-speech. The Broyles Bills were the brainchild of Illinois State Senator Paul Broyles. The bills were intended to halt the perceived spread of “communist ideology”. Prior to the passage of the 1949 legislation, Broyles headed the Illinois Seditious Activities Investigation Commission, after its creation in 1947. The purpose of this legislative committee was to investigate subversive groups in Illinois, including the KKK. The committee soon became a platform for investigating accused communists. In 1955, Broyles led the passage of a bill requiring the affirmation that one was not a member of the Communist Party. The Broyles Bills also made supporting communism a felony for public employees. Under this legislation, public employees, such as school teachers and university faculty, could be fired if evidence supported their involvement with an organization suspected of communism.[5]

Publication of Anti-Broyles Committee. Found in record series 10/7/20

Not surprisingly, this bill was invoked along vague lines of suspicion. However, the consequences for UIUC faculty were very real. Professors, such as John James deBoer and Norman Cazden, faced uphill legal, and extra-legal battles, to retain their positions. Many professors at UIUC understood and resisted this legislation through participation in groups such at the Anti-Broyles Committee, the UIUC Chapter of the Federation of American Scientists, the Committee of Mathematicians Against the Broyles Bills, and others. They hosted academic forums, printed discussions of the bills, and supported student protest.[6]  DeBoer was able to stay at the university, largely due to tenure, but Cazden was not so lucky. Cazden, who studied music at Juliard and Harvard, was ousted in 1953 by the University administration. He was unable to find an academic position again until 1969.

UIUC Chapter of the Federation of American Scientists forum advertisement. Found in record series 10/7/20

The combination of Clabaugh Act and the Broyles Bills resulted in the firing of professors, the restriction of speaking events, and the explicit control of free-flowing discourse at the university. These developments, coupled with the restriction of student activities, as well as increased policing, led to a spate of protests around the issue of academic freedom. While this cause was championed by more radical student organizations, politically moderate student groups and individuals participated in this campus dialogue. Myron Miller’s Rhetoric 102 essay, “The University Should Stop Treating Students Like Children,” effectively articulates the position of non-political students on campus. Published in The Green CaldronA Magazine of Freshman Writing, the 1953 essay touches on the university restriction of intellectual exploration and of increased campus policing,

“The University of Illinois is supposed to be an institution of higher learning. The student body of such a university should be thought of as intelligent, responsible adults who come here for the main purpose of acquiring an education. But, in light of some of the policies set down by the university, the student is a child who lacks common sense and is to be sheltered from the evil world around him…Instead of trying to promote greater knowledge of political issues among the student body, the board is trying to keep the student shut away from the world which is always around him.”[7]

Rhetoric 102 Essay by Myron Miller, 1953. Found in record series 15/7/811

The results of the Clabaugh Act and the Broyles Bills included the restriction of student groups such as the American Youth for Democracy and the Young Progressives of America, the loss of campus speakers, and an increase in student anger and fear. Student and faculty protests during this period were concerned with preserving academic freedom and a well-rounded education. These issues are still salient today. This collection of sources at the Student Life and Culture Archives provides an important historical dimension to the discourse of intellectual expression at the University of Illinois.



[1] Daily Illini, (18 February 1966),

[2] Bachelor’s History Thesis, p.42, Nicholas C. Wisseman Papers, Record Series 41/30/153, Box 1, University of Illinois Archives.

[3] Bachelor’s History Thesis, p.52-54, Nicholas C. Wisseman Papers, Record Series 41/30/153, Box 1, University of Illinois Archives.

[4] American Youth for Democracy Correspondence, Student Organizations Publications, Record Series 41/6/840,  Box  4, Folder, AYDC, University of Illinois Archives.

[5] Anti-Broyles Bill Committee Correspondence, John J. DeBoer Papers, Record Series 10/7/20,  Box 2, Folder Anti-Broyles Bill Committee, University of Illinois Archives.

[6]Anti-Broyles Bill Committee Correspondence, John J. DeBoer Papers, Record Series 10/7/20, Box 2, Folder, Action, University of Illinois Archives

[7] “The University Should Stop Treating Students Like Children”, The Green Caldron, (March 1953), Record Series 15/7/811, Box 2, University of Illinois Archives.

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