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His theories on reader response have been self-contradictory for a very long time, and this seems to be yet another attempt of his to have it both ways without saying anything.
I would appreciate it if anyone could parse for me this argument, because yet again, there's the inherent contradiction of saying, "It's a necessary part of the profession, but not a moral right," when in fact the so-called safeguards that would encourage new research and new subjects would, by their very instantiation, delimit the borders of the possible new from the exotic new.
That has been the problem all along. No law could codify the frontiers of research. And that's precisely why academic freedom has been elevated to a generalized concept rather than a site specific concept to be circumscribed legally by universities or others.
Fish says, "In short, academic freedom, rather than being a philosophical or moral imperative, is a piece of policy that makes practical sense in the context of the specific task academics are charged to perform. It follows that the scope of academic freedom is determined first by specifying what that task is and then by figuring out what degree of latitude those who are engaged in it require in order to do their jobs."
But then who takes responsibility for charging faculty with specific tasks? Who determines the degrees of latitude? The fact is, this is a regular part of the job for academics when we set curricula, hire new professors, etc. We always configure and reconfigure ourselves accordingly.
God forbid that Fish make these decisions for us, because he is dismissive of many forms of academic inquiry. And the sad history of, say, Literature Departments (of which Fish is a part) in the USA would bring us back to some rather embarrassing periods (philology, reinstitution of classical languages to thwart the effects of the GI Bill, etc.)
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