In the post–World War II period, students rebelled against the archaic university. In student-led movements, they fought for the new kinds of public the university needed to serve—women, minorities, immigrants, indigenous people, and more—with a success that had a profound impact on the intellectual landscape of the twentieth century. Because of their efforts, ethnic studies, women’s studies, and American studies were born, and minority communities have become more visible and important to academic debate. Less than fifty years since this pivotal shift in the academy, however, the university is fighting back.
In We Demand, Roderick A. Ferguson shows how the university, particularly the public university, is moving away from “the people” in all their diversity. As more resources are put toward STEM education, humanities and interdisciplinary programs are being cut and shuttered. This has had a devastating effect on the pursuit of knowledge, and on interdisciplinary programs born from the hard work and effort of an earlier generation. This is not only a reactionary move against the social advances since the ’60s and ’70s, but part of the larger threat of anti-intellectualism in the United States.
Roderick A. Ferguson is Professor of American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He was Associate Editor of American Quarterly from 2007 to 2010.
“We Demand does much more than chronicle how student protests tried to remake the university and its intellectual agendas to reflect the diverse, divergent, dissenting bodies that make up the world—it delivers an incisive and sobering account of reaction, of academic complicity in restoring the status quo and its exclusionary, anti-intellectual structures. Roderick Ferguson’s writing on the university is always on time, always urgent, and always aware that the struggle over knowledge is inseparable from the fight for our lives.”—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
“Roderick Ferguson’s We Demand is an enormously valuable text. It introduces students to the political history of the universities they inhabit, and it defamiliarizes features of those institutions that they might take for granted. And Ferguson provides a provocative intervention in critical university studies by centering student movements and especially those of students of color in the story. Ferguson frames the recent history of universities as a site of struggle in which universities have transformed themselves in response to student protest. He thus offers inspiration that we all need in this moment of renewed struggle for democratic and inclusive universities that make and share knowledge in the interest of social justice.”—Miranda Joseph, author of Debt to Society: Accounting for Life under Capitalism