In the recently published Prophets, Gurus, and Pundits: Rhetorical Styles and Public Engagement, associate professor of communication Amy Young addresses the shortcomings in university academia, mainly that intellectuals are not encouraged, and in some ways, don’t know how, to become engaged in public dialogue.
“I’m trying to look at how people who are obviously very credentialed in some area of expertise manage to engage audiences that don’t necessarily know that much about their topic in a way that is accessible and exciting,” Young says.
Young explains that there are a lot of barriers to intellectuals contributing to the leadership of public and social movements.
“The idea of actually caring about writing for public audiences is seen as not serious and a bad use of your time. Because what you should be doing is writing for journals and writing books,” Young says. “Those things are important, because you should be in that conversation, but they should not be the only conversations you have.”
Young describes part of the problem lies in the tenure and promotion system at most universities, but PLU is an exception to the rule. PLU’s focus on service encourages faculty to engage in the public sphere as experts in their field.
“What they’re trying to do is…elevate service as a legitimate third pillar of tenure and promotion,” Young says. “So that teaching is important, research is important, service is important. That is true here. It is not true in a lot of places.”
Young believes the solution lies in the way we approach teaching future scholars.
“Our mechanisms for deliberations are really broken,” Young says. “We’re given a platform and we’re given cultural authority because of our expertise and we’re only using
it with each other and not really to better our world or our local community.”
Young explains that it is difficult for scholars to get exposure for ideas in a larger sense, because they aren’t taught how to get their work in the public sphere. Young hopes her book will start a conversation about the way we approach higher education and tenure.