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A Column Lamenting the Disappearing Public Intellectual Touches a Nerve

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times riled many scholars with a column in Sunday’s newspaper that laments what he perceives as the disappearance of intellectuals from the national stage.

Mr. Kristof writes that there are some exceptions to his assertion but adds that, “over all, there are, I think, fewer public intellectuals on American university campuses today than a generation ago.”

“A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience,” he argues. “This culture of exclusivity is then transmitted to the next generation through the publish-or-perish tenure process. Rebels are too often crushed or driven away.”

Many observers took to Twitter (see the hashtag #EngagedAcademics) and their blogs to fire back at Mr. Kristof. Here’s a look at some of their reactions.

Mr. Kristof responded to the wave of criticism in a post on his Facebook page. “Some perceived me as denouncing professors,” his post says in part. “No, I’m saying bravo to those professors who try to engage—but all too often they get crushed or discouraged by the tenure publish-or-perish system.”

“I was struck that the head of Foreign Policy, responding my piece, noted that it’s dialing back contributions by academics,” he adds. “So I think there needs to be systemic restructuring to change the culture and consider impact in tenure decisions as well as obscure, unintelligible research.”

Correction (2/17/2014, 11:22 a.m.): Because of a coding error, this post originally omitted The American Conservative from a list of publications that Corey Robin cited as featuring articles by academics. The post has been updated to reflect this correction.

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