From 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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The culture wars as played out at American universities have brought the issue of academic freedom out of the ivory tower. Nelson, a literature professor and current president of the American Association of University Professors, offers insightful analysis of the history and current state of academic freedom, examining what that freedom means in the context of the broader historical pursuit of freedom from the constraints of church and state. Directly answering criticism from the National Association of Scholars and other conservative groups, Nelson addresses issues from collective bargaining to research independence to emerging threats to academic freedom, including corporate influence and religious and political intolerance. He explores the legal, political, cultural, and social meaning of academic freedom for the individual faculty member, the university, and the society at large through specific incidents at campuses throughout the U.S. and in other nations. At times overly academic, this is nonetheless a fascinating look at the roiling issues in the inner world of academia and their impact on a broader democratic society. --Vanessa Bush