I am contributing some quotes from the anarchist.academics listserv on this topic:
Dana Ward: "Obviously there is room for burrowing from within academia as well as for assaulting the ramparts, but my guess is that from a practical and rational point of view, there are significant advantages to burrowing from within. Is there a better anarchist recruiting ground among youth anywhere other than academia? ... In my view, anarchist-academics, through our teaching and research, can expose a far wider audience to anarchist ideas than any other fora I can think of, and out of that activity many more will join us in the streets than could be produced from any other activity. ... First of all, let's not forget that anarchist-academics are also anarchists and most no doubt are involved with all sorts of agiprop. Our academic responsibilities surely impinge upon the time available for activism, but we're mostly activists in addition to being academics. Furthermore, we can struggle within academia to bring it more in line with anarchist principles, principally by how we interact with students. But without Food Not Bombs, Critical Mass, AK Press, the Prapopoulou squat, and a host of other anarchist spaces, our efforts within academia will be fruitless. So we need to create more and more anarchist spaces so they can be populated by generations of anarchists who never would have been exposed to anarchism had it not been their encounter with an anarchist-academic. "
Salvatore Engel-DiMauro: "Why is academia often regarded, at least implictly, somehow as outside other kinds of capitalist workplaces? The question of anarchist academics is the same as the question of anarchist workers (employees) in general. Is an anarchist fatally compromised by seeking a wage, by paying taxes? Academia is, in the end, another job in a capitalist system, even if it differs qualitatively from other types of jobs (and does not every job have its own peculiarities anyway?). So, I would encourage everyone to think a bit more broadly here, and not single out one type of worker position from the rest. It also means seeing academia as part of the capitalist system (which is inextricably statist), with all the pitfalls and/or advantages that other forms of employment have. And why is an anarchist press any more or less compromised than any other endeavour within a capitalist system? Is an anarchist running a business a fatal and irrecuperable flaw? Would Freedom Press or any other, for instance, continue to be operational without paying taxes, without seeking funds through sales? And is a squat possible without using statist legal frameworks (e.g., to avoid being evicted, probably by force), without electricity and water supplies run by government and/or firms, without resorting to fund-raising (where does the money come from)? Those resources, including food, are overwhelmingly produced through capitalist relations, and life-undermining ones, more often that we might wish to think (think of coal-generated electricity killing or diplacing people in Kentucky, West Virgina, etc.)."
Nathan Jun: ".. I - and many others like me - are not in a position to do anything else except 'burrow within.' When I was a graduate student, I completely took my situation for granted; I never gave much thought to the possibility that I would end up living and teaching in a place like Wichita Falls, Texas, where there are no anarchists (let alone socialists, let alone progressive Democrats) and so no preexistent opportunities for radical activism. But now that I am here, in just such a place, I might as well make the most of what I have -- which is a tenure-track position in philosophy at a small, public liberal arts university... one that pretty much gives me carte blanche to do what I want."
Salvatore Again: "Well said Nathan, Ben, and Dana. I found other workers doing something similar towards me as an education worker (and considering myself an education worker in training was what has kept me sane through graduate school; regarding academia as any other capitalist work place was and is to me very useful in getting beyond the nonsensical dichotomy of what constitutes work). The work-intellect dualism is an important ideological process to keep in mind and against which to struggle, since it is also used to reproduce justifications about menial workers deserving to have less resource access (i.e., wages, etc.) because they are less intellectually capable."
Nathan again: "When pressed on this, most everyone will disavow it as rubbish. But then
again, I have personally been 'dissed' many, many times by comrades
(mostly of an insurrectionist or post-left) persuasion) for being an
"intellectual," "bourgeois," and - yes - even a "sell-out" for working
in a university (and before that, for being a graduate student).
Somewhere or other Foucault says that the first lesson of modern
politics is that everyone is a hypocrite, but once we abandon the New
Left politics of authenticity, we don't even need to think in such terms
any longer. If what we do AS academics is a form of anarchist activism
in its own right (what Dana calls "burrowing within"), then we don't
need to make apologies for it, nor should we be "dissed" for it. Once I
realized this I became a much happier person."
Here are a few ways that academic anarchists respond to this charge. I am also 'burrowing within' the university, but I do not identify as an academic. In fact, I always introduce myself as an anarchist studying academia (for possibilities, etc.). I also have problems, like Jun, with 'counter-cultural' things, but that does not mean that I embrace a supposed "social" anarchism (to be distinguished from what? An egoist, worth the name, would not, can not, oppose the social -- rubbish!); so I am not of the mind that there is some nice world outside of academia that I can run to. Most of the people that critique me for being an academic have more privilege, have more stability in their lives, run businesses or work for them, and exercise a certain amount of power that I lack. My preference is to 'begin from the beginning', which means that I explore my options and seek the one that is best for me at any given time. Academia gives me the best (of the worst) options in life right now, admittedly, I don't get any money, I get evicted for not paying rent at least twice a year, and I struggle to eat -- but I have a creative outlet to 'think' the things that I need to think so that I can go out in the world and act these thoughts (which I do).
I will never understand why academia gets disproportionate criticism. I suspect that much of it derives from jealousy. And who could blame them?