I consider myself very lucky to be working alongside academics on a college campus, and not for the reasons one might think. True, I am grateful for a fulfilling job in a difficult economy, but I’m lucky because I frequently find myself in rich conversations with critical thinkers about important topics of the day. I am not a scholar, but I can attest that scholars have a lot to offer the general public.
In the past, we could rely on professional mainstream journalists to analyze and disseminate accurate, authoritative information. Those journalists are now few and far between, and certainly not in the mainstream anymore. I realize it is not the responsibility of scholars to fill this particular void, but I’ll make a case for it anyway. Anti-intellectuals in the general public view academics as ivory tower elitists, out of touch with the average Joe. I don’t think that is a fair assessment, but I do understand why that sentiment exists. Scholars typically prefer the company of other scholars and are skeptical of the democratic mediums (i.e. blogs or other sites) that invite participation from anyone. Peer review is the preferred method of communication and collaboration. I would not argue against the scholarly peer review process, but is there any reason we shouldn’t also encourage more academic participation in public discourse?
Australia has found a way to do both. Take a look at The Conversation and its tag lines, like: Academic rigor, journalistic flair and From the curious to the serious. Below is their charter (from the website):
I’ve heard arguments against this kind of participation as “cheapening” scholarly work. I don’t believe the life of the mind and public intellectualism are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I think they can be mutually beneficial. Increasingly, higher education institutions are being asked to justify their place in society. Participation in public discourse seems to me a great way for educators to convince the general public of the importance of scholarship. I am convinced we need them now more than ever. If everyone else could join in these great campus conversations, I have no doubt the rationale for academia would be obvious to all.