In this morning’s post on academic freedom, I discussed the real dangers inherent in being a public scholar (especially for critical scholars of marginalized backgrounds). Let me be clear: job security in the face of external threats is not a trivial matter. Indeed, the lifetime job security afforded by tenure, and the general academic freedom afforded to most scholars is one of the major perks of this profession over others. But, attacks on scholars like Saida Grundy, Steven Salaita, Anthea Butler, Brittney Cooper, Tony Brown, and Sarak Kenzdoir highlight that tenure and academic freedom are not enough to protect public scholars from libel and slander, hostility, hate mail, and threats of violence.
It’s time to be real. Being a public scholar is dangerous. And, it’s generally a thankless job that many of us volunteer to do. Rarely does it count toward tenure and promotion, so we truly are doing it because we believe in justice and want to make a difference in the world beyond the ivory tower. In line with my call for the creation of supportive communities for public scholars (and in general), I propose a call to action to start supporting and thanking our colleagues who write and speak in public, who critique injustice and oppression, and those who work for and/or with community groups.
- Share a public scholar’s work with your networks. Share blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, listservs. Forward their work to those who might find it useful for their work, well-being, or understanding of the world. Include their work in your classes, perhaps as assigned reading or for extra credit. Help your colleagues broaden their reach.
- Engage a public scholar’s work. If you like a blog post you read, comment or write a response on your own blog. Tweet a response rather than just reteweeting. Or, send them a email if you prefer to communicate privately. Be careful not to convey disagreement as hostility or a character assault.
- Say “thank you” and “I appreciate you.” I recommend this particularly when you see a colleague coming under fire, but this should be a regular habit, too. Send a short email to let them know you appreciate their work and the time they put into it. Send a tweet using the hashtag, #ThankAPublicScholar, to note why you appreciate them, and to encourage others to follow them, as well. If you’re like me, sometimes you get starstruck when you meet very popular/visible public scholars; try to avoid this to simply engage them as a human and colleague (they’ll appreciate it).
- Push your department/university to recognize and value public scholarship toward tenure and promotion. This should also entail offering greater protection to public scholars who may, at any time, become the target of hostility and threats.
I don’t say this because I want to be showered with praise and appreciation. But, I can tell you that becoming a target with little explicit support from colleagues can feel very isolating. I would be lying if I said I simply ignored the haters; I have, indeed, been emotionally affected, and spend a lot less time on social media than before. I relish the ever-growing traffic that this blog sees, but the numbers pale in comparison to a simple note that says “thank you for writing this.” We, as scholars, are inundated with critique, from peer review to student evaluations to tenure and promotion. But, those critiques can feel like a pinprick compared to the ugly backlash some public scholars have faced.
So, will you heed my call? Will you thank a public scholar or two for me? Thank you.