how a university “covers” the world

(Philadelphia) Here are the baker’s dozen Tufts faculty who are Tisch College Fellows for 2015-16. Their work involves active citizenship as a topic of study, a research method, or a mode of teaching. I work with a group like this every year; about 100 alumni of the program are still on the Tufts faculty.

Listening to the 2015-16 Fellows introduce their projects last week, I realized that the faculty of a research university resembles a global open-source intelligence service or a nonprofit news-gathering organization to rival a major newspaper. One of our fellows both studies and supports Muslim women leaders in the West African region where Boko Haram makes headlines by suppressing education for women. Another fellow spent this summer conducting detailed ethnographic research in Ferguson, MO. A third is inside the homes of elderly Somerville residents who have mobility problems.

These scholars investigate topics that may also appear on the cable news or the front page of The New York Times. Their methods are more systematic and deeper than those of reporters, although their products also tend to be less timely and (with some exceptions) less accessible. I don’t consider scholarship better than excellent reporting; we need both. But we also need ways to make more public the kinds of knowledge collected or created by scholars. The Conversation is one fascinating and promising effort to marry “academic rigor” with “journalist flair” by employing professional journalistic editors to solicit and edit articles by scholars. That begins to tap the tremendous potential of the academy for public knowledge.

See also Civic Engagement and Community Information: Five Strategies to Revive Civic Communication

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.