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all scholars consider themselves public intellectuals?
Public and the Intellectuals
and speaking beyond the academy
intellectual and the bureaucracy
the intellectual necessarily an exile, marginal to the processes
of culture and society? Excerpts from an Emory conference on
Critical Conjunctions: Institutional Critique, Cultural Brokerage,
and Cultural Display.
can't say that everybody should be a public intellectual. People
are diversely gifted. That ought to be something we celebrate.
Johnson, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian
transfer and the future of the university
your research concern Atlanta?
University Decides That Its Ph.D.'s Should Be Able to Talk to
From the Chronicle of Higher Education, October 8, 1999
The Uncertain Value of Training
From the Chronicle of Higher Education, September 24,
Do Academic Giants Still Walk
From the Chronicle of
Higher Education, September 10, 1999
Academic Exchange October/November
1999 Contents Page
Professor of Marketing Jagdish Sheth is oft-quoted in the business
media on consumer behavior. In 1985, he was among a consortium
of scholars organized by the Department of Commerce to examine
the future of telecommunications. Their recommendations helped
lead to the deregulation of that industry.
Exchange How do you define "public
Sheth An academic becomes a public
intellectual by not only creating new knowledge but also actively,
personally disseminating that knowledge for a wider impact on
society. Traditionally, you publish in an academic journal, then
somebody utilizes what you discovered or invented and makes it
into some public good. A public intellectual does both.
Academics are often public intellectuals in the hard sciences
and some social sciences. In this country scientists have had
an enormous public impact through research contracts. Many universities
receive large-scale contracts from the Department of Defense,
the National Science Foundation, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
for example. There, the idea is that you as a scholar would target
your research to help the government with a particular problem.
Do you think every scholar ought to be a public intellectual?
That is clearly the expectation society has, and every time we
in the academic world do not do that, a criticism is levied.
My view is that as academics we have to be socially relevant.
Whatever we do, it's not just about academic rigor. Just the
esoteric research by itself is not sufficient. To me, it's a
tragic waste of human talent.
I also believe that the inventors or discoverers of knowledge
should be in the business of disseminating the knowledge. It's
a question of aptitude, of training, and I think some are better
than others at this. We are educators, not scientists alone.
If we were purely scientists, we should not be at a university
but a research laboratory. We should be able to communicate what
we create with equal fluency. I don't believe it's okay to be
a top scholar and a poor educator. If you are not interested
in or capable of being in front of the audience, whether it's
a student audience or a large television or a newspaper audience,
you should seriously question whether you want to be an educator.
The best scholars have combined the two. Not everybody will be
able to do both, but if you are an educator, that's a requirement.
Historically, the academy or university was primarily an education
medium, very interactive. Unfortunately, much later, almost in
the twentieth century, we began also to be driven by research
contracts, where the education aspect was not connected to research
contracts. The Department of Defense or National Institutes of
Health did not say, "For you to create, invent, or discover
knowledge, we insist that you should be able to communicate that
knowledge to the public."
do we correct that? Do we do away with the contracts?
don't think it's a question of doing away with contracts. Afterall,
the university is also a financial institution. It has budgets,
governance, people, employees. Like any organization, profit
or non-profit, it has to survive financially. Universities figured
out that getting these research contracts is good business for
them. I think the universities could now say: As we have told
professors that teaching is as important as research, when they
create some phenomenal research, it would be equally desirable
for them to communicate as public intellectuals in larger forums.
say that one problem for public intellectuals is that they tend
to lose control over their ideas through misinterpretation in
the public sphere.
the academic involvement is too early in terms of conceptual
formation, in terms validating the history and the facts, then,
yes, it's possible that the stakeholders will use you for their
own political agenda. Public opinion and the media still have
a tremendous respect for professors. They would like to use our
credibility for their own agendas.
One [way to avoid that problem] is to disseminate your knowledge
a dispassionate way. I've always believed that a professor cannot
and should not be a preacher. Some of us don't know where those
boundaries are. Are we a professor? Are we a preacher? Or are
we a politician?
Advocacy is the place where I believe professors must draw the
line to say, the knowledge I've created is valuable to society.
While I communicate as a public intellectual, somebody else can
be the advocate. These are some very hard decisions. For example,
as a scientist, should you ever be in the business of giving
your creative talent that can be used for good or bad purposes?
The answer is yes, you should, not necessarily because it will
be used for good or bad purposes; you have to disassociate from
that. You should be doing it for the sake of enhancing knowledge.