The Promise and Peril of the Public Intellectual

  • Todd C. ReamEmail author
  • Christopher J. Devers
  • Jerry Pattengale
  • Erin Drummy
Part of the Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research book series (HATR, volume 34)


At least as far back as the philosopher kings of Plato’s Republic, public intellectuals played an instrumental role in the affairs of their respective communities. Presidents who led America’s research universities in the early to mid-twentieth century were just as comfortable in the public square as they were in the library, the laboratory, or the lecture hall. A variety of forces (a more volatile public, the rewarding of specialized research, growing campus bureaucracies, etc.) began to converge in the mid-1960s, casting doubt over the future viability of the public intellectual. On one level, the advent of social media in the 2000s offered public intellectuals new platforms from which they could make their contributions. On another level, social media’s relative youth as a communication medium comes with incalculable risks. Regardless, the complex nature of the social problems facing society today demand that informed voices play a role in the present range of debates. Many colleges and universities are thus exploring ways to cultivate, assess, evaluate, and reward the scholarship their intellectuals are generating on behalf of the public.


Berkes, Niyazi Boyer, Ernest L. China Domains of scholarship Elshtain, Jean Bethke Freedom Hesburgh, Theodore M. India Information technology Knowledge Millikan, Robert Andrews Motivation Public intellectual Posner, Richard A. Public scholarship Pursuit Putnam, Robert D. Academic rewards Social media Turkey Tyson, Neil deGrasse 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Todd C. Ream
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher J. Devers
    • 2
  • Jerry Pattengale
    • 3
  • Erin Drummy
    • 1
  1. 1.Taylor UniversityUplandUSA
  2. 2.Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Indiana Wesleyan UniversityMarionUSA

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