International affairs and the public sphere

Stephen M. Walt writes on Foreign Policy about the role that academics should play in public discourse about major social issues, including foreign policy.

He argues that academic scholars have a unique role to play as an independent source of information and critical commentary – and an obligation to use their knowledge for the betterment of society. In particular, university-based scholars should resist the “cult of irrelevance” that leads many to limit their work to a narrow, obscure, and self-referential dialogue among academicians.

The author sets out six recommendations for improving academic participation in the public sphere:

  1. Give greater weight to real world impact when evaluating individual scholars and academic departments
  2. Encourage professional associations to honor public impact
  3. Encourage younger scholars to participate in policy-related activities
  4. Engage policymakers and knowledgeable citizens in the research process
  5. Convince university administrators to value participation in the public sphere
  6. Broaden the discussion of academic ethics and responsibilities

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