Scholarly Citizens

I agree completely with the thesis presented by Richard Cherwitz in your Jan. 17 issue.1 However, while I agree with Cherwitz that teaching is part of the mission of our academic institutions and is examined for tenure decisions, I disagree that this activity is valued to the extent that he suggests.Perhaps such citizen scholars deserve even more recognition than those conducting just research. The problem is that the business of research is the culture of our ivory-tower existence, and it will

John Alderete(alderete@uthscsa.edu)
Feb 27, 2005

I agree completely with the thesis presented by Richard Cherwitz in your Jan. 17 issue.1 However, while I agree with Cherwitz that teaching is part of the mission of our academic institutions and is examined for tenure decisions, I disagree that this activity is valued to the extent that he suggests.

Perhaps such citizen scholars deserve even more recognition than those conducting just research. The problem is that the business of research is the culture of our ivory-tower existence, and it will not change until leadership defines our scholarly activity for tenure and promotion and pay raises also to include "community service" as Cherwitz has defined it. Said differently and using his terminology, the citizen scholar must be recognized with the same level of distinction as those who do "pure" science research if we are to evolve in the academy.

In my own case, I have had a successful...

In "Citizen Scholars,"1 Richard Cherwitz may be missing a major factor in the widespread under-appreciation and under-use of science, namely the lack of rigorous scholarly education, perhaps especially in science, of too many students who subsequently become citizens, politicians, industry leaders, and the like.

This has happened for several reasons. One factor is undoubtedly the strident call for relevance and immediacy not only from politicians and university administrators, but also from students. This leads them to applied courses that place weaker demands to develop the competency to understand and translate scholarly research into practice.

A second factor is the widespread growth in professional education, which has again limited student access to scholarly material in the sciences and other academic domains. Society would be better off with more science-trained people working for newspapers than with more journalist-trained people trying to understand science (and pressuring scientists to provide introductory-level explanations the reporters can understand). A similar claim would be true for many occupations.

The problem is not primarily one of scientists doing more to "push" our knowledge out into the public sphere, but rather one of inadequate capacity of people in many walks of life to "pull" scientific and other scholarly knowledge into their work and personal lives. Rather than more citizen scholars, we need more "scholarly citizens."