It’s been five years since my favorite professor and UGA legend Conrad Fink passed away. I recently rediscovered a Fall 1998 issue of the University of Georgia Research Report. (Not sure why I have it — I arrived in Athens for my graduate studies in 2001 — but I’m really glad I do.) Inside are Fink’s poignant and prescient remarks about academe’s obligation to engage the general public and major trends in higher education and communications that very few at the time had fully considered. Only Fink could make a research journal that engaging! In the tidy package are the timeless themes of caring, giving and sharing and how truly meaningful work must include those things.
Does the scholar truly have an obligation to relate learning to the general public? Let me ask you: Do scholars have a responsibility to shine light in dark corners? To help good triumph over evil? To assist reason in the eternal war against chaos?
Yes, scholars do have a responsibility to interact with the public — and I personally question that proposition no more than I would question whether I have a responsibility to dart into traffic and pull a child to safety. I question the proposition no more than I question whether a physician has a responsibility to heal.
And I don’t mean scholars should sit demurely on the sidelines, waiting to be asked to the dance. I favor aggressive scholarship of engagement, as it was termed by the late Ernest Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
But why do I feel so strongly about this?
It probably has something to do with my Methodist upbringing. I think that anyone — not just scholars, but anyone — who possesses something of value is obliged to share that in some way with humankind. Scholars are uniquely positioned to fulfill this moral obligation when they possess something of value: facts, revelations, insights, thoughtful reflection. Pull the child from the traffic, assist humankind’s search for truth and progress. Both are moral obligations and both require active effort by scholars that go beyond simply sharing with other scholars in the tight little world of academe.
To Be Continued