Should Universities Reward Academics for Public Influence?

NOTE: Since I have already posted a few comments on the blog mentioned below, and since I have already received a couple responses to those comments, let me open with a caveat about my selfishness in this post: (1) I am not lobbying to be including in the ranking identified below, and (2) my selfishness is much larger than that as my central argument involves how I and all academics are evaluated within the university for our public work. Selfish? Yes, but likely not the way it appears on first blush; I use myself as an example because I have the data.


When Rick Hess posted his annual ranking, The 2014 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings, Jon Becker posted on Twitter:

Jon Becker ‏@jonbecker

“The 2014 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings.” Once again, a fine idea poorly executed

On the blog post itself, DrSpector raised this concern:

I am a bit surprised to not find Dr. Peter McLaren on this list. He publishes extensively and is often featured in high-profile media events. Plus, his work is hugely [edit] influential.

I had already offered a comment, but when I spent some time with the published list and Hess’s identified system for creating the rankings, I noticed two things about the list: (1) If I use my google Scholar h-index (5) and my Klout score (62), just on those two categories alone, I would rank around 191 (but I am not included at all, and I would garner points in all of the identified categories), and (2) as DrSpector’s comment prompts, it appears not a single scholar/researcher on the list would fall under the classification of critical pedagogy (McLaren and I would).

So this leads me back to “fine idea poorly executed.”

Audrey Watters has already done an excellent job addressing that concern in her On Listing Education Innovators and Intellectuals—in which she concludes:

Frankly, I think all 3 of these lists – Byers’ list, Forbes’ list, Hess’s list – are connected to this machinery.

The machinery of privilege and exploitation. Insults to our intelligence. The right of false naming. Gestures of obliviousnesses. Genuflections to financial and political power. Disdain towards marginalized voices. The erasure of progressive activism. A wishful denial of progressive change.

And thus, I have a modest proposal (not satire despite that terminology, I promise) about how to salvage such endeavors because I strongly agree with Hess’s stated intent: Universities must move beyond rewarding only narrow parameters for what counts as “scholarship,” notably acknowledging and rewarding public work by university-based scholars and academics (what is traditionally called public intellectual work.)

And here is my selfish confession since I have decided that although I continue to publish scholarly books and journal articles in peer-reviewed and prestigious journals as well as maintaining a strong association with my appropriate fields in the academic world, I argue that my public work is far more important, it reaches a much wider and diverse audience, and it is more likely to result in action when compared to my traditional scholarship. In short, as a scholarly good within and for my university and its academic community, my public work is in fact far more valuable than my traditional scholarship.

I am not on Hess’s list (and am not lobbying to be) for a couple possible reasons: (1) I (and many other academics) was simply overlooked, or (2) I was considered but not deemed a “researcher” (both possibilities are examined, again, extremely well by Watters).

And thus, “fine idea poorly executed” because as Watters explains, mechanisms used to identify and evaluate quality of voice and influence within any context are prone to perpetuating a status quo that includes some unfairly being ignored, marginalized, silenced.

Here, then, are two suggestions for executing well a fine idea:

  • Create an online calculator that allows all academics, scholars, and researchers to input their data and generate a score in order to facilitate their own efforts at their universities to garner greater awareness and credit for their public work. Since I believe Hess and agree with Hess about the need for this to happen, an on-line calculator would serve that goal much better than the current ranking and insular process. (And as another note, I am not being overly critical of Hess and his post as I also think he has taken on a herculean task that can only have weaknesses. If he hadn’t attempted these rankings, we’d not even have a chance for this discussion.)
  • And then, drop the urge to rank and instead create a rubric that allows for scores to fall into a series of categories, such as “High Influence,” “Moderate Influence,” “Emerging Influence,” etc.

Hess’s effort to identify and rank edu-scholars is an ideal opportunity to put our foot more firmly in the door opening between traditional university-based scholarship and the brave new world of social media. I’m eager to start pushing a bit harder in order to not only open that door but also take it off the hinges.


  1. Pingback: Professors as Public Intellectuals: A Reader | the becoming radical
  2. Pingback: Professors as Public Intellectuals: A Reader | ΕΝΙΑΙΟ ΜΕΤΩΠΟ ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑΣ

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