No University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom

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The modern university is sustained by academic freedom; it guarantees higher education’s independence, its quality, and its success in educating students. The need to uphold those values would seem obvious. Yet the university is presently under siege from all corners; workers are being exploited with paltry salaries for full-time work, politics and profit rather than intellectual freedom govern decision-making, and professors are being monitored for the topics they teach.

No University Is an Island offers a comprehensive account of the social, political, and cultural forces undermining academic freedom. At once witty and devastating, it confronts these threats with exceptional frankness, then offers a prescription for higher education’s renewal. In an insider’s account of how the primary organization for faculty members nationwide has fought the culture wars, Cary Nelson, the current President of the American Association of University Professors, unveils struggles over governance and unionization and the increasing corporatization of higher education. Peppered throughout with previously unreported, and sometimes incendiary, higher education anecdotes, Nelson is at his flame-throwing best. will be the benchmark against which we measure the current definitive struggle for academic freedom.

The book calls on higher education’s advocates of both the Left and the Right to temper conviction with tolerance and focus on higher education’s real injustices. Nelson demands we stop denying teachers, student workers, and other employees a living wage and basic rights. He urges unions to take up the larger cause of justice. And he challenges his own and other academic organizations to embrace greater democracy. With broad and crucial implications for the future, No University Is an Island will be the benchmark against which we measure the current definitive struggle for academic freedom.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Nelson recalls (accurately) that when he and I discussed the role of politics in the classroom at a public forum and he reported proudly on his practice of inserting the names Bush and Cheney into a poem about a past military disaster, I declared that ‘If I were Cary’s dean, I would fire him immediately.’ But upon reflection, and after having read this impassioned and worthwhile book, I am moved to reconsider.”
-Stanley Fish,The New York Times’ “Opinionator” blog

“Cary Nelson's book No University Is an Island brings together many of the different issues currently facing universities. While his main theme is academic freedom, he is able to locate this central educational value at the intersection of several interlocking forces: privatization, casualization, corporatization, and globalization...The greatest strength of Nelson's book is that it constantly returns to the idea that only the faculty working collectively can defend the university as a public good. By chiding some of his colleagues for focusing too much on their own careers, he makes a strong plea for all faculty members to take back their institutions, and by documenting cases of effective faculty resistance, Nelson provides a glimmer of hope in these dark times.”
-The Huffington Post

“This valuable and lively polemic will be of particular interest to readers already familiar with campus issues and the political struggle over faculty rights and responsibilities.”
-Library Journal

“Cary Nelson calls on professors and students to work together to embrace shared governance between universities and unions to protect salaries, rights and a renewed commitment to academic freedom.”
-Susan Salter Reynolds,The Los Angeles Times

“Nelson’s feisty intellectual manifesto is kept rooted—and readable—by personal recollections, felicitous turns of phrase, and scrupulous fairness.”
-Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
Nelson (Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Manifesto of a Tenured Radical) is passionate about higher education and convinced that maintaining excellence relies on three core principles: academic freedom, shared governance, and tenure. He identifies multiple threats to academic freedom and continued quality, including the growing number of contingent faculty with part-time or short-term contracts. The current president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Nelson argues that the AAUP is important because it defines principles regarding university governance and the professional responsibilities of faculty and demonstrates the power of collective action to protect individuals and university standards. Nelson's descriptions of the history, goals, and achievements of the AAUP, as well as its sometimes severe organizational mismanagement, make this an original contribution. VERDICT This valuable and lively polemic will be of particular interest to readers already familiar with campus issues and the political struggle over faculty rights and responsibilities. Readers who want a more analytical examination of contemporary challenges facing universities might look at Frank Donoghue's The Last Professors or James C. Garland's Saving Alma Mater.—Elizabeth R. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL
Publishers Weekly
Nelson (Revolutionary Memory), president of the American Association of University Professors, tackles the state of American college campuses in a world of identity politics and culture wars. This is an insider's book in some ways; there's not much general public curiosity about the university's internal mechanisms of hiring, paying, and firing, but Nelson recounts internecine arguments (for example, his debates with Stanley Fish and David Horowitz) with enough clarity and detail to be fully accessible and consistently interesting. Nelson revisits exemplars of the crisis in academic freedom (the controversies surrounding Ward Churchill and Norman Finkelstein, among others). There's the surprising revelation of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on major universities in New Orleans (“tenured faculty were fired with scant notice, no due process, no stated reasons, and no appeal except to the very administrators who terminated them”). He addresses the issues raised by “the massive shift to contingent labor (graduate students, part-time faculty, and full-time faculty off the tenure track) in the academy” and argues for faculty collective bargaining, not mere unionization. Nelson's feisty intellectual manifesto is kept rooted—and readable—by personal recollections, felicitous turns of phrase, and scrupulous fairness. (Mar.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814758595
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 2/3/2010
  • Series: Cultural Front Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 289
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Cary Nelson is Jublilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the national president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Among his twenty-five books are Manifesto of a Tenured Radical (also published by NYU) and the landmark coedited collection Cultural Studies.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: What Is Academic Freedom?
1 The Three-Legged Stool: Academic Freedom, Shared Governance, and Tenure
2 How a Campus Loses Its Way: Sixteen Threats to Academic Freedom
3 Legacies of Misrule: Our Contingent Future
4 Barefoot in New Zealand: Political Correctness on Campus
5 The Future of Faculty Unionization
6 Graduate-Employee Unionization and the Future of Academic Labor
7 On Weakened Ground: The AAUP, Pedagogy, and the Struggle over Academic Freedom
8 No Campus Is an Island: Reflections on the AAUP Presidency
9 Evolution or Devolution: The Future of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure
About the Author

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