The free university movement emerged from the student protest movements on college campuses throughout the 1960s. Throughout this time period, hundred of free universities sprouted up offering courses that ranged across a wide spectrum. The initial free universities grew out of Free Speech Movement organizing on the Berkeley campus. Much of free university theory came from the Port Huron Statement, one of the defining documents of the new left.
Free universities often were situated on college campuses and existed as a sort of community education component of the very universities that free university proponents criticized as corporate tools for an industrial capitalist order. Free universities offered courses, sometimes numbering in the hundreds on a variety of topics that ranged from “Zen Basketball” to “Revolutionary Organizing, Terrorism & Sabotage.” The free universities were not always inherently political, but many of them did organize around left-wing politics. Later in the development of the free university movement, many free universities became community learning networks and were quite widespread, even considered mainstream.

The Free University by Bill Draves (1980)