Academics: forget about public engagement, stay in your ivory towers

Dec 10, 2015 by

Researchers are urged to make their work accessible, but simplifying complex ideas doesn’t support great scholarship

Academics are constantly encouraged to engage with the public more often, but this advice ignores the way that specialised knowledge already affects civic life. Specialisation has social importance, but often only after decades of work.

It is time for us to reassess what we mean by public scholarship. We must recognise the value of the esoteric knowledge, technical vocabulary and expert histories that academics produce.

Those who call for academics to publicise their work often place importance on making complex research more accessible to general audiences. Some scholars insist that groundbreaking humanities research is ignored because academics don’t publicise it properly. Others assume that academics don’t want to leave their ivory towers because they are more comfortable there or might be afraid to speak in public.

This attitude towards public engagement presents it as an intrinsic virtue, while perpetuating the idea that professors are brainy introverts unable or afraid to talk to people outside their sphere of expertise. In fact, the opposite is true. The work of an academic is to talk about ideas – in lectures, class discussions, academic conferences and student meetings. For many, it’s one of the job’s greatest pleasures.

Source: Academics: forget about public engagement, stay in your ivory towers | Higher Education Network | The Guardian

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