- Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies
Few issues in higher education evoke the same sort of emotional response as that of academic freedom. For some observers, the issue is seen as a core component of the traditional nature of academe. Academic freedom provides faculty with both rights and responsibilities to be an engaged citizen of the community and a representative of their discipline. For others, the issue represents all that is wrong about higher education. Academic freedom allows free rein for divisive ideologies and poor job performance under the cloak of lifetime employment.
It is into this volatile terrain that John K. Wilson steps with Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies. A lively public commentator on a variety of social issues, Wilson is the founder of the Institute for College Freedom and an active blogger on the topic of academic freedom.
His text focuses on the six years subsequent to the 9/11 attacks, arguing that the calls for national unity during this time also suppressed the ability to express dissent or critique. His book's goal is to call attention to the increasingly savvy attacks on "intellectual liberty" (p. 8). Wilson begins, "Academic freedom is always one of the first casualties of war" (p. 1), and then proceeds to detail the repressive religious, political, and cultural influences on all aspects of the university community.
There is much to appreciate in Wilson's text, particularly the almost overwhelming depth of detail provided in every chapter. The chapters are designed to highlight not only the numerous avenues in which the principle of academic freedom operates within higher education, but also those numerous groups which seek to define it.
For example, in Chapter 1, he provides a broad overview of the challenges to academic freedom, ranging from the compilation of 112 "unpatriotic" [End Page 291] statements made by faculty scholars, as defined and disseminated by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), to the upheaval regarding the PATRIOT Act and the release of confidential student information. On a single page, he recounts the efforts of a watchdog website to spy on professors of Middle East Studies, outlines the passage of federal legislation designed to monitor academic programs of Middle East Studies, and discusses the furor that resulted when incoming students at the University of North Carolina were asked to read Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations.
The wide-ranging scope of the book continues in subsequent chapters. Chapter 2 examines the discussions in university classrooms surrounding Israeli and Palestinian relations. Chapter 3 is devoted to what Wilson labels "David Horowitz's Crusade for the 'Academic Bill of Rights,'" and summarizes how state legislatures across the country have considered modified versions of the bill.
Chapters 4 and 5 take issue with the stereotypical representation of the academy as a bastion of liberalism, while in Chapter 6, Wilson examines conservative religious institutions, which he labels "unquestionably the worst violators of academic freedom in America" (p. 145). The final chapters consider the freedom of press as applied to campus media, the nature of for-profit universities, and financial connections between higher education and industry.
Wilson touches upon some of the most public debates related to academic freedom over the last five years. Ward Churchill and Lawrence Summers make early appearances in Chapter 1, while later chapters examine the visit of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Columbia University. Yet Wilson also provides compelling stories that may not have made national headlines.
In Chapter 5, for example, he briefly outlines how a speaking invitation extended to economist Jeremy Rifkin by the College of Southern Idaho was rescinded after administrators became aware of Rifkin's critique of the meat industry. Because of the college's close ties to the agricultural community, the administration felt that Rifkin's visit would be "in violation" of the public trust placed in the university (p. 140). The range of examples provided throughout the text is a strength of Wilson's work and will appeal to students and scholars of higher...