Friday, April 14, 2006


From Zone Books:
Academic Freedom after September 11
Edited by Beshara Doumani

ON THE OTHER HAND, if you yearn for some serious discussion of crucial issues of academic freedom, here is one good place to look. Just before I flew to this year’s CLA conference in Birmingham, I read this new book from MIT Press, ably edited by Beshara Doumani. In a set of carefully reasoned essays, Robert Post, Judith Butler and Phillipa Strum debate the history and the nature of academic freedom in the United States. I really hope that a wider audience finds its way to this book. Neither the legal nor the institutional histories of academic freedom policies have left us with a clear and unambiguous set of responses to challenges to academic freedom, whether assaults on tenure or efforts to police the classroom practices of faculties. Is academic freedom something possessed by individual faculty members or is it something that inheres in institutions? Under what circumstances does conduct outside of the classroom fall within the purview of academic freedom policy? What are the differences within academic freedom between public and private institutions? What will be the effects on academic freedom of expanding corporate sponsorship of research? Do trustees and administrators engage in debates at this level of sophistication when responding to challenges from outside the academy? The past of readings of the AAUP standards should give anyone pause when thinking about possible future legislation. The present of challenges to freedom of speech and scholarship should be cause for worry to anyone who genuinely cares about free inquiry and public education. MIT Press has done a real service in bringing before the public this timely and provocative book. A healthy antidote to the circus surrounding these issues in the public media.

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