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Versions of Academic Freedom

Stanley Fish, Versions of Academic Freedom, The Rice University Campbell Lectures, The University of Chicago Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780226064314. Pages: 192.

Through his columns in the New York Times and his numerous best-selling books, Stanley Fish has established himself as a popular public analyst of the fraught intersection of academia and politics. Here Fish for the first time turns his full attention to one of the core concepts of the contemporary academy: academic freedom. The crucial question, he says, is located in the phrase “academic freedom” itself: Do you emphasize “academic” or “freedom”? The former, he shows, suggests a limited, professional freedom, while the conception of freedom implied by the latter could expand almost infinitely. Guided by that distinction, Fish analyses various arguments for the value of academic freedom: is academic freedom a contribution to society's common good? Does it authorize professors to critique the status quo, both inside and outside the university? Does it license and even require the overturning of all received ideas and policies? Is it an engine of revolution? Are academics inherently different from other professionals? Or is academia just a job, and academic freedom merely a tool for doing that job?