Study Guide

Stanley Fish Biography

Basic Information


Stanley Eugene Fish


Cold Fish, The Confronter, The Communitarian, The Shark


Male through and through (just look at my author photos)

Home town

A working-class neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island

Work & Education


It might be easier to make a list of universities I have not taught at. I also can't be contained by any one discipline, which is why they call me a "university professor"— shorthand for "you are special beyond all other professors because your scholarship and professional work have attained a distinction and influence that can only be compared to the influence that Run DMC had on rap music as we know it."

These days I teach humanities and law at Florida International University and serve as Dean Emeritus at University of Illinois at Chicago. I have also taught at the Cardozo School of Law; University of California, Berkeley; Johns Hopkins University; The University of Pennsylvania; Yale Law; Columbia University; The John Marshall Law School; and Duke University. Whew.

 I've held joint appointments, been chairman of this, that, and the other, been a dean, a Fellow (capital "F," as in resident intellectual, not "guy"), and "distinguished" visiting professor. I've even had a lecture series named after me. (Hey-o!) I practically need a full-time assistant to respond to the visiting-professorship offers that choke up the postal service. But hey, if I'm not busy hammering out a hard-hitting opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, I may actually respond to my flood of mail. Call me.


Naturally, I was one of those gifted smarties straight out of the womb. If you're interested in the development of a brilliant mind such as mine, go check out the Stanley Fish Papers in the Critical Theory Archive at the University of California at Irvine. There, you can find examples of my adolescent rebellion against the intellectual status quo. You will likely be charmed and perturbed by articles I produced in the bloom of youth for the Junior Achievement Journal (no joke). Even then, I was issuing a battle cry for independent accomplishment. I was born for this stuff.

 Oh, and don't feel bad about yourself, but I did earn my PhD at the fresh young age of 24—from Yale no less. My dissertation was about the English poet John Skelton. And trust me, it was a milestone of scholarship.


Political views

None of your business. Whom I voted for in any silly little election is much less significant than my well-honed opinions about politics in the academy. You don't know what my politics are because I am not like some professors (Ahem, Howard Zinn) who wield their authority as professors to promote subjective opinions about contemporary social struggles.

Academic freedom does not mean that you have free reign to use your classroom as a pulpit for promoting fine moral character and making good citizens, addressing racism, sexism, economic tyranny, and other social ills even if you are teaching Jane Eyre. Academic freedom means freedom to do fulfill the duties of your academic job, not the autonomy to go on a jag about any old political headline that drew your attention over morning croissants.

Less protest, more Proust!

 I have published widely on the combustible mix of professors and politics—most recently in Save the World on Your Own Time. If the title doesn't clear things up for you, I'll let you know the general premise: Hey, professors, why don't you get over yourselves and teach the syllabus instead of using your classroom to start a social revolution or to sermonize about your political opinions?

My point is that professors need to teach about issues of academic importance, not political relevance. The ideas in books are enough to get worked up over without turning them into a cause that has global implications. In short: Scholarship and politics don't mix.

 P.S. People tend to have some pretty strong opinions about my, um, pretty strong opinions.

Religious views

Like my political beliefs, my religious faith is my own beeswax—which is not to say that I don't have volumes to say about religious view in general. As is my way, I have written ad nauseum on the role of religious belief in departments like history, biology, and environmental science.

Faith is one of my pet subjects when it comes to religion. I like to compare our faith in science and our faith in religion. Since poking holes in arguments is really what I do best, I have critiqued the way people employ the Bible to rationalize their beliefs versus the way the people consult scientific evidence to confirm stuff: the former is about subjective faith; the latter, they say, is "better" because it's founded in scientific investigation—on proof, facts, and evidence.

Well, I'm skeptical, because these days, people go around citing academic research like its gospel. I say both sides are wrong. Just as I don't like Holocaust deniers or creationists in a biology class, I also don't like intellectually uppity academics who call themselves believers in the "real" (a.k.a. materialist scientific inquiry) as opposed to what they call superstitious nonsense (a.k.a. religious faith).

Activities & Interests


Being contentious, combative, and contradictory
Academic conferences at which I am (inevitably) keynote speaker
Bridging the academy and the public
Good, clean prose
Jaguars—the car, not the animal
Intellectual communities
Great Books
Jazz music
Being an administrator
The mantra "Do your job, don't try to do someone else's job and don't let anyone else do your job."
Getting a rise out of other academics (not a hard thing to do)
Being a curmudgeon
Faculty bashing
Reading Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky" to my undergrads—it makes me seem like the cool uncle
Making a sick salary (for an academic, that is)


Politics in the classroom
The academic star system (although I clearly benefit from it)
Self-loathing academics
The phrase "The life of the mind"
Latina studies, third world studies, and any politically motivated curriculum
Ward Churchill
Larry Summers
University-level composition classes
A book called Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice
Bad sentences
Unfair academic funding


Close reading
The Fugitive
Rooting out moral relativism


Readers' Rights Group
Miltonists Unite
Interpretive Community
The Anti-Foundationalists
Academic Pugilists
Saviors of Humanities for Humanities' Sake
Academics Against Politics
Stop Preaching and Start Teaching
Academics with Crossover Appeal Support Group
Professors in Porsches