UNM Personnel as Public Intellectuals

April 2, 2014 -

What role should academics play in public affairs? The debate has a long history, and the answers vary widely. Plato was an early proponent of intellectuals as not just outspoken, but in charge, though the actual political record of Greek intellectuals was less decisive. Arguments for expanded public roles are seen by some as manifestations of anti-intellectualism, attempts to make academics less academic. The debate was taken up again when Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed in the NY Times. The responses from professors were swift and diverse. How should we frame the discussion about UNM’s role in public but non-partisan life in New Mexico? An article from the American Association of University Professors might be a good place to start: “Academics must seize the moment to assert higher education’s primary role in the democratic work of the country and collaborate with the public to address society’s core challenges. We must lead by assuming roles as public intellectuals. We must fill the leadership vacuum created by political intransigence and obstruction.” While I encourage you to think about our role with respect to public engagement, I also believe that our public intellectual work ought always to be grounded in our specific disciplines (with evidence of that via peer-reviewed publication); otherwise when we speak we speak only as fellow citizens, not public intellectuals. What do you think? You can continue the conversation here, and if you’re already convinced, you might begin by visiting the UNM Newsroom, and signing up as a faculty expert.