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U. of I. English scholar to lead organization of 45,000 professors

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


Cary Nelson
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University of Illinois photo
English professor Cary Nelson begins his two-year term as president of the American Association of University Professors on June 12.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Cary Nelson, a professor of English and Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been elected president of the American Association of University Professors.

His two-year appointment, which is renewable, begins June 12. It is a non-salaried office in what he describes as the country’s major multidisciplinary nonprofit professional organization for faculty.

The AAUP, which has about 45,000 members, promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process and standards of quality in higher education.

Nelson has served on AAUP’s National Council for 10 years, the last six as second vice president. He co-wrote the association’s statements on graduate students and on academic professionals. Nelson also has been an active member of the Modern Language Association.

A professor at Illinois since 1970, and a prolific writer – the author or editor of 25 books and the author of 150 articles – Nelson has split his professional efforts between literary scholarship and academic activism.

His literary research has focused on modern American poetry and on preserving the cultural heritage of the American political left. Most recently, he edited the first comprehensive anthology of modern American poetry for Oxford University Press. Other works he wrote or edited include “Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left” (2001) and “The Wound and the Dream: Sixty Years of American Poems About the Spanish Civil War” (2002).

His academic activism has centered on reform in various areas of higher education, including academic freedom, collective bargaining, the exploitation of part-time
employees – adjuncts and graduate students – and corporatization.

His publications on the academy include “Academic Keywords: A Devil’s Dictionary for Higher Education” (1999) and “Office Hours: Activism and Change in the Academy” (2004).

Nelson also regularly lectures in the United States and abroad, and is frequently interviewed by national media outlets for his opinions regarding higher education.
Reviewers have called him “a doer and a risk-taker” (The Nation, 1997), and “a frank and witty commentator on the politics of higher education” (AAUP news release, April 19, 2006). Inside Higher Ed, an online publication, recently described Nelson as a man who “has never been at a loss for words. He’ll now have a new forum to express his views about academe. …”

Inside Higher Ed said that among Nelson’s priorities will be to increase awareness of the AAUP by widely distributing copies of selected AAUP investigations on academic freedom; to expand membership; to improve communications with current members; and to become involved with academic freedom cases involving contingent labor earlier in the process, so as to “influence events before someone becomes a victim.”

Nelson grew up in Pennsylvania. His family was active in the anti-nuclear movement, and he was active in the anti-war movement in the 1960s and served as a draft counselor during the Vietnam War. He earned degrees at Antioch College in Ohio and at the University of Rochester in New York.