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No University Is an Island

No University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom

Cary Nelson
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 298
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  • Book Info
    No University Is an Island
    Book Description:

    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 Islandoffers 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.

    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 Islandwill be the benchmark against which we measure the current definitive struggle for academic freedom.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5905-9
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: What Is Academic Freedom?
    (pp. 1-30)

    The history of academic freedom in some respects predates the use of the term. The need for the concept grew out of the long history of universities and their struggle for freedom from church and state. The medieval university had sought a degree of independence from the church, but that did not entail doctrinal independence for the faculty. Nor was the chance that faculty might spread uncertainty among the general populace tolerated. It took later cultural changes—from developments in science and philosophy, to increased exposure to national differences, to wider commercial contacts—to prepare the ground for the modern...

  5. 1 The Three-Legged Stool: Academic Freedom, Shared Governance, and Tenure
    (pp. 31-50)

    The American Association of University Professors has long maintained that academic freedom is really only one leg of a three-legged stool. Academic freedom, shared governance, and tenure together support the higher education system we have had in place for over half a century. As Robert Birnbaum puts it in an unpublished 1993 paper, “‘Governance’ is the term we give to the structures and processes that academic institutions invent to achieve an effective balance between the claims of two different, but equally valid, systems for organizational control and influence. One system, based on legal authority, is the basis for the role...

  6. 2 How a Campus Loses Its Way: Sixteen Threats to Academic Freedom
    (pp. 51-78)

    When the AAUP reported in 1997 on Brigham Young University’s decision to fire a young faculty member for heresy—specifically for publicly admitting she prayed to both god the mother and god the father—many readers ofAcademewere reminded of how different life could be on another campus. In most campus towns, such a “confession” would have trouble finding an administrator who would care, let alone getting newspaper coverage. The unique diversity of American higher education, embracing both private and public institutions, secular and religious schools, small liberal arts colleges and megauniversities, community colleges and research universities, was once...

  7. 3 Legacies of Misrule: Our Contingent Future
    (pp. 79-106)

    It was the most gradual of the changes shaping higher education. Contingent faculty members had slowly but inexorably come to dominate higher education’s teaching workforce. Not that they dominate anything else, as their authority anywhere in the industry—from the classroom to administration to governing boards—could hardly be less. For half a century, tenure had been the key guarantor of academic freedom. Now tenure is available only to a minority of faculty members. Higher education’s reliance on contingent teachers has steadily increased over two generations. Although the complete current cohort of part-time faculty is far less likely to have...

  8. 4 Barefoot in New Zealand: Political Correctness on Campus
    (pp. 107-126)

    Although few students or faculty on American campuses who are on either the Right or the Left of the political spectrum are inclined to acknowledge each other’s perspective, members of both groups feel beleaguered, isolated, outcast, and underrepresented in their higher education environments. What is more, divisions within these groups mean that some are castigated by others who share many of the same political beliefs. Where the Left is concerned, as cultural and political history tellsus, today’s conflicts are only the latest episodes in a long-running, multigenerational, now multimillennial story that entails fractious disputes about one’s right to claim a...

  9. 5 The Future of Faculty Unionization
    (pp. 127-144)

    I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. At campuses across the country, jackbooted university managers have trod all over faculty rights for a decade. Shared governance is too often at best the object of administrative contempt. Faculty control over the curriculum is whittled away by reliance on part-timers with no input and by online degrees designed by bureaucrats. Academic freedom is simultaneously compromised by policies for email use and campus servers and threatened by continuous rightwing assaults from outside the university. Independent faculty research in science, engineering, and agriculture is increasingly undermined by reliance on product-oriented commercial support....

  10. 6 Graduate-Employee Unionization and the Future of Academic Labor
    (pp. 145-162)

    The movement for graduate-employee unionization is the single most promising development in higher education over the past two generations. It began with the formation of the first such union at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1969, followed by the University of Michigan a year later. Graduate employees at the University of Oregon won their recognition election in 1977. Several campuses in Florida followed, but the effort took form as a genuine movement in the 1990s, with the universities of Kansas, Iowa, and Massachusetts and the State University of New York and University of California campuses winning recognition and...

  11. 7 On Weakened Ground: The AAUP, Pedagogy, and the Struggle over Academic Freedom
    (pp. 163-196)

    For decades, academic freedom has seemed a relatively stable feature of the psychology and practice of academic life. As of 2006, over two hundred organizations had signed the AAUP’s 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.” From the start, to be sure, there were inherent disparities between secular and religious institutions. Among schools chartered by different denominations, expectations about faculty speech and student intellectual freedom vary considerably, and those expectations have themselves sometimes shifted substantially when church leaders, politics, and doctrine changed. Wanting to maximize the academic freedom of faculty at religious institutions, the AAUP has worked hard...

  12. 8 No Campus Is an Island: Reflections on the AAUP Presidency
    (pp. 197-220)

    I used to say that you have to be in the national AAUP leadership for a decade before you understand how the organization works. That was then. After fifteen years on its governing National Council, six of those years as a vice president and four of them as AAUP president, I am still learning things that are absolutely central to how the AAUP operates. Certainly many council members and members of the AAUP’s appointed committees, including the members of Committee A, have no clue. Some realize they can only see through a glass darkly; others are blissfully comfortable in the...

  13. 9 Evolution or Devolution: The Future of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure
    (pp. 221-266)

    When the AAUP was founded by a group of faculty in 1915, there was every expectation that inquiries into violations of academic freedom would be relatively rare. The AAUP’s founders were largely from elite universities, including a large number from Johns Hopkins, and by and large they were comfortable with their jobs. They were, to be sure, aware of many general threats to faculty independence, among them the influence of big business on secular higher education that had been growing for decades. Arthur Lovejoy, the association’s first president, on the other hand, was well aware that more individually targeted incidents...

    (pp. 267-278)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 279-288)
    (pp. 289-289)