cover image Versions of Academic Freedom: From Professionalism to Revolution

Versions of Academic Freedom: From Professionalism to Revolution

Stanley Fish. Univ. of Chicago, $24 (192p) ISBN 978-0-226-06431-4

In his new treatise, Fish, a columnist for the New York Times and prominent public intellectual, tackles the question of academic freedom with his trademark incisiveness. Aiming to address two central questions—how broadly should we interpret academic freedom? and what is truly at stake when we limit the latitude of critical inquiry?—Fish first explores the role of academic in society through the lens of five basic schools of thought, which are placed them on a stratum from the most restrictive to the most permissive. Arguing for the most restrictive form, in which academic freedom should not be radical, but rather, radically limited, Fish defines academic freedom simply as the “unimpeded application of professional norms of inquiry.” According to Fish, diminishing the notion of academic freedom to a purely professionalist value “is required if academic freedom is to mean something as opposed to meaning everything.” In later chapters, Fish investigates the more permissive forms, surveying arguments that he unfailingly finds wanting from thinkers such as Judith Butler and Henry Giroux. Though Fish’s defense of the professionalist school of thought and critiques of the more liberal conceptions of academic freedom are both impeccably expressed, one cannot help shaking the feeling that his arguments are largely academic—made more in the spirit of how the academy should function than in reaction to what today’s profit-oriented universities actually do. (Oct.)