Threats to academic freedom -- direct and indirect, subtle and not so subtle -- come from a variety of sources: Politicians, the general public, news media, administrators, corporations, and students. In my academic career, I have been criticized from all of those quarters. Though these attacks have been relatively easy to fend off in my particular case, the threats are real and should trouble us; they require of us sharper analysis and a strategic plan to fend off attempts to constrain inquiry. But, even with that understanding of the seriousness of these external threats, I will argue that the most important aspect of the current controversies is how they mark the complacency and timidity of faculty members themselves. I will focus on two specific incidents in my career -- one involving administrators and the other students -- that illustrate these threats. Then, I will examine the responses of faculty members on my campus to the events, and offer suggestions for analysis and action. Throughout I will remain rooted in my own experience at the University of Texas at Austin. While Texas may in some ways be idiosyncratic, I do not believe my experience at that university is radically different from others around the United States. My concern with this issue is not rooted in optimism for the short term. While I would like to see U.S. academics, as a class, take a leading role in movements to assert radical humanistic values that have the possibility of transforming society; I don't believe it is likely, or even possible, in the near future. In fact, I assume that in the short term there is very little progressive political change likely in the United States, with or without the assistance of university-based academics. Instead, I will argue we should work to hold onto what protections for academic freedom exist to provide some space for critical thinking in an otherwise paved-over intellectual culture, with an eye on the long term. Toward that goal, I will suggest ways to approach these threats to academic freedom and attempt to assess realistically the conditions under which such defenses go forward.
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