Cary Nelson is known not only as a blunt and devastatingly witty commentator on higher education but also as an activist working hard to reform it. As a member of the Modern Language Association’s Delegate Assembly he co-authored a number of reform proposals, including a major project to document salaries for contingent faculty in English and foreign languages. As a member of the organization’s Executive Council he helped assure that these projects were completed. For the last ten years he has served on the National Council of the American Association of University Professors, the past six as second Vice President. He coauthored the Association’s Redbook statements on graduate students and on academic professionals.
As a scholar, one of his main interests is in preserving the cultural heritage of the American Left. He discovered and published Edwin Rolfe’s anti-McCarthy poems and coedited Madrid 1937, a massive collection of letters written home by American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. He edited the first comprehensive anthology of modern American poetry for Oxford University press, at the same time addressing contemporary topics like political correctness, hate speech regulations, sexual harassment, academic unionization, and the financial crisis in higher education. His twenty-five authored or edited books include Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1987), Will Work for Food: Academic Labor in Crisis (1997), and No University is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom (2010). He is the author of over 100 essays, including a number published in Academe, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Education.
Cary Nelson was born in 1946 and grew up in Philadelphia and Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He received a B.A. from Antioch College in Ohio (1967) and a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester in New York (1970). Since the fall of 1970 he has taught modern poetry and literary theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Cary Nelson took office as the 49th President of the American Association of University Professors in June 2006.