Please, #ThankAPublicScholar

PublicScholar

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.

7 thoughts on “Please, #ThankAPublicScholar

  1. Dear, Dr. Grollman,

    Only moments before you posted this latest entry did I think how much your writings serve as a mentorship from afar. I thought about writing to you to say so, and then your post encouraging the very act. Epic timing.

    I want to say more specifically, how your willingness (sometimes unwilling/difficult, I’m sure) to open up about what hurts you as well as what enlivens you is extremely powerful and nourishing in my life. I am a poor, queer, black female graduate student (one of two, and was mistaken for the other one, with whom I share no resemblance) at the SF Art Institute. I just finished my first of 3 years and will graduate with an MA in Contemporary Art History and an MFA in Studio Art. I’ve spent this past year not feeling as if I belong for a number of reasons, which I won’t get into here, but for reasons I trust you can imagine. I will say, however, that your posts make tangible the oft (self-) dismissed struggles I experience. I’ve dealt with a profound sense of loneliness as far back as I can remember, but here in your blogs is a rugged, dogged tenderness toward these issues. Here in your blogs is a space for me to suss out this loneliness.

    I eagerly read and truly enjoy the combination of pain and pleasure, of struggle and success, of awkwardness and finesse present in this blog. You write beautifully and thoughtfully. I feel loved by you. Considered. Cared for. All of the contributors here have added to the quality of my life, thought, and practice. And so I offer an enthusiastic THANK YOU!

    Natasha

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    • Natasha, your thank you note has literally brought tears to my eyes. I’m overwhelmed by your kind words. One of the reasons I’ve created this blog is to force myself to be visible, to make others hear me — because, I still don’t see myself reflected in the world. I devour each word of others’ stories, like Janet Mock’s recent autobiography, because I can see some of myself in their words; and, Mock and others write in their stories that they, too, are invisible, and hope to be a voice for others like them who are silenced and invisible. The hostility from and quick dismissal by others for whom I don’t really write for can take a toll; but, I find solace in knowing my words mean something to someone — to you. Thank you for opening up in your comments. You are braver than you know. I wish you success in your career. We must support one another along the way.

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  2. Dr. Grollman,

    I agree with Natasha that this post was fortuitous. I came to your site for the first time for an assignment in my Master of Liberal Arts course. I appreciate your effort in this post and the few others I have read so far. Being in an M.L.S. program, I am looking to become a public intellectual and value the academic work as well as the ability and gumption needed to state what you know for public consumption. You are a part of where theory intersects with practice.

    As I am working on becoming able to do the same I want to thank you for being real and helping others see and understand what is all too often unstated. Bringing formal academic reasoning to a public forum requires both the ability to bridge the gap from the ivory tower to the shores of public discourse and being strong enough to support the weight of that bridge.

    It is unfortunate that the forces which critique and condemn are so weighty while those who benefit are seldom aware of the struggle currently inherent in bridging the gap. So, thank you for using your ability to create and maintain that bridge.

    tim troyer

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    • Hi Tim — Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad that you see value in the work that I do through this blog, bringing together theory and praxis (I like that!). I’m excited to hear that you’re starting off your career as a public intellectual. I have found it crucial to begin my journey by discovering others who have done this kind of work. If your grad program is like mine, you won’t be exposed to current and past public scholars; you will have to search on your own. Some of the very theorists and scholars whose work you read will also have experience in public intellectualism and intellectual activism that is never mentioned in your training. I’ve written about this in earlier posts, including this one: https://conditionallyaccepted.com/2014/01/09/activist-academic-career/ Best wishes on your journey!

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