How do we understand academic freedom today? Does it still have relevance in the face of the managerial and ideological pressures which are reconfiguring higher education institutions? And what about the humanities? In an increasingly market-driven world, what do the humanities have to offer society? These two sets of questions provide the guiding threads of related enquiries that make up this hard-hitting and controversial study. Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa argues that the principle of supporting and extending open intellectual enquiry is essential to realising the full public value of higher education, and that in this task, the humanities and the forms of argument and analysis that they embody have a crucial role to play.
The book examines the troubled history of academic freedom in South Africa starting with key debates raised by the 1987 O’Brien Affair through to post-apartheid government policy where it figures as an inconvenient ideal, that is paid lip service to but is neglected in practice; questions received ideas of institutional culture and managerial authority; and argues for a better understanding of the critical thinking arising from advanced forms of literacy made available by the humanities. Discussion of the place of the humanities in furthering democracy is deepened and extended in a series of interviews with three key figures from the critical humanities: Terry Eagleton talks about the deforming effects of managerial policies in British universities, Edward W. Said argues for the democratising potential of the humanities and Jakes Gerwel discusses the importance of the humanities in both the anti-apartheid struggle, and for contemporary South Africa. The volume as a whole ends with a consideration of the most recent challenges facing academic freedom and the humanities.