On the Job: Stanley Fish on Academic Freedom


‘Academic freedom is in the eye of the beholder.’  That, I think, will be the most common takeaway by readers of Stanley Fish’s new book Versions of Academic Freedom: From Professionalism to Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). After all, he breaks the concept into five “schools”: The “It’s just a job” school (his own favorite); the “For the common good” school; the “Academic exceptionalism or uncommon beings” school; the “Academic freedom as critique” school; and the “Academic freedom as revolution” school. Most of us, as we read, will not identify particularly well with any of these, making us itch to each add our own “schools.” That, at least, was the case for me.

There’s a peculiar insularity to the book. It assumes, for example, a unity of purpose within the academy: The goal (to boil it down) is critical inquiry. Academic freedom, in Fish’s mind, only relates to this…

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