Wednesday, June 25, 2014

SUSTAINED (emphasis) Public Engagement, not just engagement.

Here are a few more points related to my article on public engagement - how it might work and what I mean by "there is no ivory tower."

1. How might it work?

No one is seriously advocating that an op-ed is equal to a piece of peer-reviewed scholarship. At least no one I know of. But I hear, as push-back, "Well, it's not like an op-ed is equal to a peer-reviewed article." Right!

This is why I emphasize "sustained." I actually think a single op-ed is not unlike writing a complex book review or encyclopedia article in terms of effort, and I'd be happy for one op-ed to count about as much as either of those. They are portfolio filler, they show a kind of engagement with the field and expertise, but they don't carry significant weight in hiring, tenure, or promotion decisions.

Sustained public engagement, whether via a regular column, a blog, community organizing, agricultural extension services or public history (for which the reward structures already work this way, as far as I know), is something else though. For example, would it be so wrong to take a tenure system requiring a book + 2 peer reviewed articles, and instead accept a book + 1 peer reviewed article + record of sustained pubic engagement?

I do believe that for most of us, our identity as academics depends on a record of specialized discipline-specific research, usually undergoing a blind peer review process (though I will be happy to critique peer review at a later point). This is as it should be. I just think that if someone is really committed to public engagement of whatever sort, one could develop a structure that substitutes some of the requirements for tenure with this other kind of activity.

We will need metrics, much as we have metrics for "good" or "impactful" (ugh) with scholarly publications. This is a doable challenge.

2. There is no Ivory Tower

There is an ivory tower, but it's not real. That's to say, the notion that academia is separated from "real life" is a mirage, but a mirage that some people cling to. I think it's a response to the anti-intellectualism that permeates American culture. We build these imagined walls, often fortified with snobbishness (that I encounter too often), as a defense mechanism.

What I don't want to do (and did in an earlier draft) is to denigrate specialized scholarship and call it "ivory tower."

3. Dear conservative commentator ...

From the Chronicle:

Robert Oscar López, a conservative commentator, wrote:
Don't overlook the problem with political bias. I contribute a huge amount to "civic engagement" but I am conservative, and my activism works to ensure that every child has a relationship with his mother and father, something that drives the homofascists into hysterics. I've published hundreds of articles and collaborated on research about the importance of children having a mom and dad, but I would have to be smoking crack to put any of that in my personnel file. The lesbians who run the our campus offices would just start hating me more than they already do. Part of me feels that this stuff shouldn't really count; you should have organic intellectual work as a truly altruistic pursuit that you do for the love of it.
I responded:
Robert - I find your language here offensive. There's no place for "homofascists" or the assumption that lesbians cannot recognize good work with which they disagree. As an academic, you of course already know that fascism in fact is about using state power to enforce a perceived normality - usually the man/woman norm in fact that you advocate for in your work - rather than a push for a more inclusive society. I'm pleased to stand with the inclusivists, personally, but the great thing about inclusion (rather than fascism) is that there is room for bigotry to thrive, be free, speak openly, get published, get tenure, and so forth. As opposed to fascism, where perceived deviant behavior suffers from state (and often private) action.
That said, I suspect you are using such language to troll the liberals who mostly post here, inviting venom, so that then you can engage in conservative victimization fantasies to justify your sense of grievance. I won't give you that out. Instead, let's take you seriously.
Your position is why having clear tenure and promotion standards matter. You build a structure in which you measure quality NOT by whether you agree with it politically, then apply those metrics across the board. In such context, impact and quality matter. You should be advocating for such measurements much more forcefully than I in order to protect not just yourself, who with your hundreds of articles must be doing fine, but the next generation of conservative academics who wish to engage with the public.
Good luck!
And with that, I'm done writing. It's time to start writing.

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