We asked some of our California alums to tell us about being a public intellectual, and whether they have a duty to share their knowledge.
“As a faculty member at a public research university, I have a responsibility to address the issues I study in public forums whenever possible. Research and development of new knowledge is a key part of the mission of any university, but at publicly supported universities it is also critical to spread this information beyond traditional academic outlets. This contributes toward institutional accountability to the public, and increases the likelihood that my research will have a positive impact on public policy decisions and society as a whole.”
Ann Huff Stevens is Director of the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis and Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics. She studies low income workers and labor markets, the incidence and effects of job loss, connections between economic shocks and health, and poverty and safety-net dynamics. Check out her latest op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.
“There are two reasons I feel a duty to share my knowledge – one abstract and one concrete. In an abstract sense, knowledge is a universal human inheritance. Anything my teachers have taught me is a consequence of what others have taught them. My knowledge is not just my own; it is what I have learned from others. Concretely speaking, I have been in public schools all my life. Taxpayers have thus sponsored my education. Today, I work in a public university whose mission is to serve the state of California. It is not only my duty; it is a great privilege to be able to share my knowledge.”
Tanya Golash-Boza is an associate professor of Sociology at the University of California at Merced. She is the author of four books – the most recent is Race and Racisms: A Critical Approach (Oxford 2014). Her recent OpEds have appeared at The Houston Chronicle, Al Jazeera English, and Al Jazeera America.
“Educators—whether they are classroom instructors, writers, researchers, scientists, or advocates for a cause—absolutely have a civic duty not only to share information, but to question and wrestle with it in order to promote a spirit of inquiry and innovation. As a teacher, however, I also withhold my opinions so that my students can assert theirs. Because the common notion of “sharing” amounts to self-promotion on facebook or the confession of private thoughts, it’s crucial that citizens (not only academics) engage in a rigorous, empathetic, and sometimes uncomfortable but productive exchange of ideas.”
Lauri Mattenson is a Lecturer with UCLA Writing Programs. Previous publications have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Mother Company, The Jewish Journal, Turning Wheel: The Journal of Socially Engaged Buddhism, Massage Magazine, BruinLink, and The Daily Bruin.
“Although many academics also take on the role of public intellectuals, I have personally shared the knowledge gained through my research projects with two more limited audiences—my students and other members of the academic community. Increasingly, I feel a greater obligation and desire to contribute to broader public dialogue. The ability to conduct research over extended periods of time—often years—gives academics unique perspectives and knowledge on important issues that ought to be shared with broader public. Finding time to write for a public audience has been a challenge so far, but it’s a goal I’ve set for 2014.”
Rachel Brickner is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics at Acadia University (Wolfville, Nova Scotia). She is currently researching teachers’ activism and the education reform movement. Follow her on twitter.