Professor criticizes academia in new book

Posted on Mar 14 2014 - 8:55pm by Leah Traxel, Online Editor

Some people live by the adage “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” but Amy Young, associate professor of communication, decided she would push the envelope with her new book.

In her debut full-length book, “Prophets, Gurus, and Pundits: Rhetorical Styles and Public Engagement,” Young addresses the faults of the collegiate academic system, namely that academics aren’t very skilled at talking to the general public.

“We spend a lot of time in grad school training people to be specialized to the point where it becomes difficult for them to speak to lay audiences,” Young said.

Another issue is once they are no longer students, scholars in the collegiate world frequently become part of a tenure and promotion system that doesn’t recognize public scholarship as legitimate.

This means that in order to achieve promotions or tenure, academics must publish work or research in scholarly journals which aren’t likely to be read by anyone but other scholars.

For most academics, this means that time spent seeking tenure or a promotion is working on scholarly projects to be consumed by other scholars.

“You will probably spend that time talking to other academics. You will probably not spend that time actively engaged in the community,” Young said.

The beginning of the book details the problems and lays a foundation for communication strategies, but the bulk of the book is dedicated to case studies of intellectuals who are successfully communicating their ideas to a broader audience.

Young said she hopes these case studies can serve as potential role models for academics who want to pursue this kind of work.

“The big picture idea is there is enormous potential for academics to engage more effectively with communities and broader publics than their peer groups,” Young said. “I think most academics are interested in that work, and my book would be a suggestion for how to do that.”

Young said this communication is becoming increasingly important with the political societal issues such as the economy and climate change.

“Scholars are in a position to respond to some of these problems, but we mainly write for each other.”

However, Young said Pacific Lutheran University is the exception. For example, in most colleges and universities, a professor couldn’t get credit for directing a play or producing other artistic work, but at PLU, these endeavors would count just like writing a book.

“PLU is pretty out in the front of recognizing public scholarship,” Young said.

“Prophets, Gurus, and Pundits: Rhetorical Style and Public Engagement” can be found on Amazon for $38.