Academia and the Public

Over the past year and eight months or so, I’ve spent a lot more time on twitter than I ever thought I would. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about economics, academia, teaching, women, families, violence, children, marriage, and history than I could have ever imagined as a first-year Ph.D. student. I think that’s why they call this thing called academia a choice to “live the life of the mind,” though I’m not sure that’s entirely an accurate representation at all. With such a defined, rigid path ahead of us, it’s often difficult to imagine anything outside of the trajectory: get a tenure-track job, publish, get pre-tenure, publish, get tenure, publish, get to full professor.

Perhaps it’s the tenuous nature of my position, or perhaps it’s the myriad articles passed my way that decry the future of education, but getting off that path, deviating from it, or expanding it in some way are things I think about often. The public role of academics, sharing their research or influencing policy, or stepping outside the tower, is a constant subject of conversation and visible form of work supported by an online community I have had the pleasure of diving into over the last year or so. It is full of so many amazing individuals, I know I haven’t even begun to explore its depths. Some are academic, some are not. Some are recovering academics, some got a Ph.D., but never took the teaching route, and some remain blissfully ensconced in anonymity. Some are women, most are not. Some are in my field, many are not. All of them, however, make me think every day about the public role of an academic. In the face of increasing education costs, “free” alternatives, attacks on the value of a well-rounded education, and the nagging thought that somehow this house is going to all fall down around us, they make me think and write more deeply about what I do and why it’s important.

All of this is my roundabout way of saying that I’m grateful to be at an institution where there are professors and administrators willing to engage the public about the future of education and about their own research. Gettysburg’s president, in particular, is very vocal, often writing for the Huffington Post and the Chronicle of Higher Education. This week, a Gettysburg College history professor has a piece in the New York Times. It’s sponsored, and partially with the goal of maximizing exposure for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, but at least they’re reaching out. I don’t always agree with them, but I think it’s great. I’m finding myself more and more invested in the role of academics as public intellectuals, especially women.

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