Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times riled many scholars with a column in Sunday’s newspaper that laments what he perceives as the disappearance of intellectuals from the national stage.
Mr. Kristof writes that there are some exceptions to his assertion but adds that, “over all, there are, I think, fewer public intellectuals on American university campuses today than a generation ago.”
“A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience,” he argues. “This culture of exclusivity is then transmitted to the next generation through the publish-or-perish tenure process. Rebels are too often crushed or driven away.”
Many observers took to Twitter (see the hashtag #EngagedAcademics) and their blogs to fire back at Mr. Kristof. Here’s a look at some of their reactions.
Kristof ‘Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About’ — Corey Robin, an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and CUNY’s Graduate Center, responds on his blog. He writes: “Kristof need only open the pages of The Nation, the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the Boston Review, The American Conservative, Dissent, The American Prospect—even the newspaper for which he writes: today’s Times features three opinion columns and posts by academics—to see that our public outlets are well populated by professors.” Corey Robin
‘A Merciless Exercise in Stereotyping’ — Erik Voeten, an associate professor of geopolitics and global justice at Georgetown University, responds to Mr. Kristof’s column in a post for The Monkey Cage, a popular political-science blog hosted by The Washington Post. He calls Mr. Kristof’s column well meaning but overly dramatic. “It’s like saying that op-ed writers just get their stories from cab drivers and pay little or no attention to facts,” he writes. “There are hundreds of academic political scientists whose research is far from irrelevant and who seek to communicate their insights to the general public via blogs, social media, op-eds, online lectures, and so on.” The Monkey Cage
‘A Somewhat Misguided View of Faculty Engagement’ — Robert J. Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, writes that Mr. Kristof’s column “overstates the problem” but is “a worthwhile wake-up call for us to step up for efforts for public engagement.” He offers some suggestions for what academics could do to gain the attention of policy makers and elite news outlets. Kelchen on Education
A ‘Blanket Condemnation of Ph.D.-Program Culture’ — Chuck Pearson, an associate professor of chemistry and physics at Virginia Intermont College, says that Mr. Kristof’s column fixates on the stereotype of the “pipe-smoking, office-dwelling” full professor, and improperly assumes that many different types of colleges do not exist. “We should be saluting people who go that extra mile in outreach, and who do their part to take the caricature of the college professor and shatter it,” he writes. “That, at the end of the day, is what I wish Nick Kristof would have done.” Another Fine Mess
Mr. Kristof responded to the wave of criticism in a post on his Facebook page. “Some perceived me as denouncing professors,” his post says in part. “No, I’m saying bravo to those professors who try to engage—but all too often they get crushed or discouraged by the tenure publish-or-perish system.”
“I was struck that the head of Foreign Policy, responding my piece, noted that it’s dialing back contributions by academics,” he adds. “So I think there needs to be systemic restructuring to change the culture and consider impact in tenure decisions as well as obscure, unintelligible research.”
Correction (2/17/2014, 11:22 a.m.): Because of a coding error, this post originally omitted The American Conservative from a list of publications that Corey Robin cited as featuring articles by academics. The post has been updated to reflect this correction.