Nicholas Kristof offended many academics recently when he declared, in an essay in The New York Times, that public intellectuals among the professoriate had gone the way of the landline telephone. “There are,” he wrote, “fewer public intellectuals on college campuses than there were a generation ago.”
Not only is Kristof wrong, I believe, but it seems to me that exactly the opposite is true: With the rise of social media and, in particular, of personal blogs, more professors than ever are adding their voices to the public debates of the day (sometimes to their detriment, as I noted last month in a column about faculty members’ getting into trouble on social media).
Perhaps our disagreement has to do with how we define “public intellectual,” which Kristof does not actually attempt to do. He merely cites one well-known example—his colleague at the Times, Paul Krugman—as if to set the bar for being considered a public intellectual at winning a Nobel Prize, teaching at an Ivy League institution, and writing regularly for what is arguably the world’s leading newspaper.
But virtually any college faculty member who uses print publications or social media to engage with a broad audience can be called a public intellectual. More and more academics have been doing exactly that, at colleges large and small, with varying degrees of success. Few are household names, perhaps, but at least they’re getting their ideas out there in blog posts and newspaper columns, and many are having a significant impact on their towns and beyond. <Read more.>