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Academic Freedom in the Wired World

Academic Freedom in the Wired World

Political Extremism, Corporate Power, and the University

Robert O'Neil

ISBN 9780674026605

Publication date: 02/28/2008

In this passionately argued overview, a longtime activist-scholar takes readers through the changing landscape of academic freedom. From the aftermath of September 11th to the new frontier of blogging, Robert O'Neil examines the tension between institutional and individual interests. Many cases boil down to a hotly contested question: who has the right to decide what is taught in the classroom?

O'Neil shows how courts increasingly restrict professorial judgment, and how the feeble protection of what is posted on the Internet and written in email makes academics more vulnerable than ever. Even more provocatively, O'Neil argues, the newest threats to academic freedom come not from government, but from the private sector. Corporations increasingly sponsor and control university-based research, while self-appointed watchdogs systematically harass individual teachers on websites and blogs. Most troubling, these threats to academic freedom are nearly immune from legal recourse.

Insisting that new concepts of academic freedom, and new strategies for maintaining it are needed, O'Neil urges academics to work together--and across rigid and simplistic divisions between "left" and "right."


  • Academic freedom now confronts new challenges with the rise of new technologies (web pages, etc.), national security concerns, the politicization of higher education, both inside and outside of the academy, and the growing penetration of corporate, business, and government interests. This book is the first to describe—clearly, fairly, and astutely—the many different contexts in which problems of academic freedom appear, and the critical tensions between institutional and individual freedom. Robert O'Neil writes from a lifetime of experience, as professor, university president, and founder of a free speech think tank. He was an early and vociferous critic of speech codes and other policies that suppressed the speech of conservative faculty members and students, and he and his book do not flinch in supporting the academic freedom rights of all, including the politically incorrect. A book this broad and clear will be invaluable to anyone attempting to disentangle claims of academic freedom and its complexities.

    —Donald A. Downs, University of Wisconsin


  • Robert M. O’Neil is University Professor and Professor of Law at the University of Virginia. He is the former president of the University and founder of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press