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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.)

Descriptors: Foreign Countries, College Faculty, Self Concept, Professional Isolation, Professional Identity, Faculty Evaluation, Needs Assessment, College Role, Higher Education, Teaching Conditions, Educational Environment, Intellectual Experience, Public Speaking, Teacher Role, Anti Intellectualism, Leadership, Ethics

Autor: Parsons, Jim


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