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This book examines the growth of the University of North Carolina (UNC) during the school's formative years between the World Wars. Academic freedom—its history and its current meaning—is often misunderstood within and without the academy. This book takes an “on the ground” approach to the history of academic freedom. It focuses on how in the early 1900s the newly heralded principle of academic freedom led to UNC's role as an expertly trained advocate for improving labor relations and race relations in the South. UNC's reputation as one of the South's leading institutions of higher education drew some of the nation's top educators to its classrooms and helped it become a regional model of the modern university. This generation of professors defined themselves as truth-seekers whose work had the potential to enact positive social change; while university leaders like Frank Graham defended the professors' freedom to choose and cultivate their own curriculum and research to obtain this goal. Proponents of academic freedom argued that the expertise of the faculty would help lift the state and even the entire South out of poverty and place it on the road to progress. However, its location in the country's most conservative region presented challenges as new ideas of academic freedom and liberalism central to its educational philosophy sparked loud opposition among business leaders, anticommunists, white supremacists, and conservatives generally.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY




978-0-8131-3439-0 (pdf version)


978-0-8131-4014-8 (epub version)




Academic freedom, Liberalism, Segregation, Race relations, Expertise, Higher education, Labor relations, Progressivism


Higher Education | United States History

The New Southern University: Academic Freedom and Liberalism at UNC
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