A revolution has taken place in American life and thought. Few have taken note of it, and even those who have seem unaware how radical the change has been and how important the long-range implications are for us all. The revolution is in the relation of the government to higher education.

One great strength of the American way has been its careful separation of powers. We have just gone through a traumatic reaffirmation of the integrity of the legislative and judicial branches in the face of pressure from the executive branch. In another balance of power we have historically declared that the family, the church, the school, and the press are to be free from governmental control. Recent Supreme Court decisions have reaffirmed the separation of church and state and the freedom of the press, but a vast change has occurred in relation to the school.

As late as the 1930s the federal government had little or no control over higher education. Laws such as those providing for social security, workmen’s compensation, and unemployment insurance, binding upon almost every other sector of society, specifically exempted educational institutions.

Just a little over two decades ago the Commission on Financing Higher Education declared that the strength of higher education was in its freedom and that this freedom “must be protected at all costs.” It predicted that federal financing would bring federal controls that would be destructive to originality and diversity and would finally produce uniformity, mediocrity, and compliance. But in 1952 this was only a prediction.

Independence characterized American higher education from its start. When Harvard College was founded in 1636, the question was raised as to whether it could ...

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