By Andrea Lynn In a new book about higher education and the humanities, a UI English professor launches a fusillade "back on the attackers," aiming at commentators on all sides - conservatives and liberals, academics and the mainstream news media - for the "shoddy work" they have done in covering contemporary American scholarship. "When the best teachers and scholars in the humanities are represented in the public press as 'politically correct Thought Police,' then American educators - and important intellectual debates - are done a serious injustice," says Michael Berube, the author of "Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics," published recently by Verso. According to Berube, most media attacks on U.S. universities have been "irresponsible and poorly informed." The eruption of "political correctness" stories in 1991, he said, "showed major American publications - The Atlantic, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report - taking their information almost entirely from one side and perpetuating the worst kind of garbled, misquoted 'explanations' of deconstruction, curricular reform, and current theories of race and culture." Berube's book acknowledges "the difficulty of sustaining intellectual exchange in a culture more accustomed to waging mass- media smear campaigns than to fostering substantial debates on historicism or the Voting Rights Act," but Berube points out that this problem is not confined to campus politics. Discussing conservatives' misquotations of the writings of Lani Guinier, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Al Gore, for example, Berube says that "the point of these attacks is to make political moderates look like radicals and thereby narrow the bounds of permissible political debate." Publishers Weekly recently described Berube's research as "breathtaking and persuasive," and dubbed him an "academic whiz- kid" with a "gift for translating the tides of theory." Berube sees himself more as an academic "generalist" who brings the works of contemporary critical theorists - and their claims about culture and society - to various nonacademic readers. Accordingly, "Public Access" features discussions on postmodernism, cultural studies, "new historicism," multiculturalism and the "politicization" of the humanities. Berube also has written about rap music, avant-garde fiction, science fiction films and Down syndrome. He was featured in a New York Times article about the new breed of "public intellectual" who tries to "speak to broader audiences on broader issues." With regard to the ubiquitous term political correctness, Berube believes that its continued use "gives American conservatives a virtual monopoly over the discussion of cultural values - by casting liberalism as doubly void of values, at once relativist and totalitarian. In other words, liberals don't have values; they have PC." And because contemporary critical theory has everything to do with cultural values, Berube argues, "any academic who's truly interested in democracy will simply have to engage the arguments of our attackers if we're going to foster democratic values in the culture at large."