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ERIC Number: ED539258
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Jan-28
Pages: 50
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: N/A
The Ethical Academic: Academics as Public Intellectuals
Parsons, Jim
Online Submission
Twenty-five years ago, American sociologist Robert Neelly Bellah (Bellah, et al., 1986: 303) critiqued the growing isolation of intellectuals within universities and called for a return to "social science as public philosophy." Little seems to have changed. My thirty-seven year experience at the University of Alberta suggests that academics see self-isolation as key to career success. Today's academic seems to work alone, engage in esoteric researching or theorizing, and publish single-authored articles in high-impact journals. At the University of Alberta, and I assume at other tier one universities, working to engage a wide public does not rank highly on Faculty Evaluation Committee's (FEC) annual reviews of academic work. This paper asks whether university-based academics are becoming irrelevant to wider publics and whether our intellectual leadership is waning. Here, I trace the history and importance of public intellectuals and make a case that ethically university-based academic leaders must become public intellectuals who engage the larger public through writing, speaking, or acting. Rooted in both Renaissance and Enlightenment, a public intellectual is a learned person shining a light on a public sphere. Although our post-modern sense has eroded many Enlightenment myths, I make the case that active ethical academic leadership should not be thrown to that wreckage. Here, I discuss the tradition of public intellectuals--discussing who, where, how, and what they are. I review the tradition of some historic and more recent public intellectuals like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edward Said, Henry Giroux, and James K. A. Smith. I discuss why public intellectuals must speak fearlessly regardless of anti-intellectual traditions that might position academics as targets for ridicule. I discuss public intellectuals as both teachers and outline a number of practical and collaborative ways that academics might engage the public. This paper is framed on the beliefs that a university is (1) a place where academics work to protect and extend the best of a society's culture and knowledge, (2) can be a living witness to how knowledge can positively infuse a culture and a society, and that (3) academics are meant to serve the general good. (Contains a bibliography and 6 footnotes.)
Publication Type: Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Canada