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Change Is Needed: “To Be A Scholar Is, Often, To Be Irrelevant”

Don’t miss the excellent post “Professors, We Need You” by Nicholas Kristof Influence(@NickKristof) in the New York Times. Kristof explores various reasons and examples as to why scholars are not more influential in today’s society.

I believe that academic research institutions could be key to addressing this issue if they provided the infrastructure, training, and incentives in support of scholars. We don’t do that yet in a concerted effort that makes a difference to scholars.

Here are a few statements that stood out for me in the article:

(…) it’s not just that America has marginalized some of its sharpest minds. They have also marginalized themselves.

All the disciplines have become more and more specialized and more and more quantitative, making them less and less accessible to the general public. – Anne-Marie Slaughter, former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, now the president of the New America Foundation.

Professors today have a growing number of tools available to educate the public, from online courses to blogs to social media. Yet academics have been slow to cast pearls through Twitter and Facebook. Likewise, it was TED Talks by nonscholars that made lectures fun to watch…

Many academics frown on public pontificating as a frivolous distraction from real research. If the sine qua non for academic success is peer-reviewed publications, then academics who ‘waste their time’ writing for the masses will be penalized. – Will McCants, Middle East specialist at the Brookings Institution.

A related problem is that academics seeking tenure must encode their insights into turgid prose. As a double protection against public consumption, this gobbledygook is then sometimes hidden in obscure journals — or published by university presses whose reputations for soporifics keep readers at a distance.

Read the full text


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