Graham Sustainability Institute

Brownbag series on Public Engagement for the Academic Scholar

The U-M community was invited to participate in a series of brownbag discussions regarding an issue of importance to the future of our profession:  The role of the academic in public and political discourse.  We hosted three brownbag lunches in the winter 2014 term to begin a campus-wide dialog on the engagement of the academy in creating informed decision-making with the public and political realms.  Topics of discussion explored faculty attitudes and practices on the range of external engagement activities, including but not limited to: Congressional testimony, assistance to government agencies, board service, public presentations, media interviews, K-12 education, blogging, editorial writing, social media -- all activities that lie outside the “standard” notions of scholarly pursuits. Each lunch was different as we considered the risks, benefits, incentives and obstacles of such engagement.  The dates were as follows:

Brownbag lunch #1: Friday, January 24, 2014, 12:00-1:30, Michigan League, Room D, 3rd floor
What do we mean by public and political engagement?
In this first of 3 brownbag lunches for winter 2014, we discussed the various forms of engagement that our faculty conduct; what are considered “appropriate” forms of engagement; where are the lines between being a content provider and being a political advocate; and how these fit with the types of scholarly engagement advocated by others (such as Roger Pielke Jr.’s Honest Broker, or Donald Stoke’s Pasteur’s Quadrant).

Brownbag lunch #2: Tuesday, February 18, 2014, 12:00-1:30, Johnson Rooms, Lurie Engineering Center, North Campus
How does one pursue an academic career that includes public and political engagement?
In this second of 3 brownbag lunches, we explored the risks and opportunities (both internal and external)? How do they differ by stage of career or discipline? What are the challenges of engagement, including personal, career, and political ones, and what are the options for meeting them? How can one navigate the multiple roles that are part of the engagement process?

Brownbag lunch #3: Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 12:00-1:30, Michigan League, Michigan Room, 2nd floor
What should be the role of academics in public and political discourse?
In the third of 3 brownbag lunches, we asked normative questions about the rules of academia, the needs of society, what to do if they do not mesh and how can we promote more successful engagement in public discourse? In an increasingly complex and scientifically challenging world, how should we engage the public and political process? What are the rules of tenure, formal and informal, and how should they change and how should they stay the same? How should young scholars manage their careers in ways that may differ from those of their more senior colleagues?


This brownbag series is part of a larger research effort that includes a survey being conducted in the fall 2013 term that will inform our discussion and a national conference to be planned in 2015.  At the heart of this activity is a recognition that the role of the University is changing.  Some suggest that to remain relevant, universities (particularly public universities) and their faculty have a unique responsibility to become engaged within the policy discussions of challenges are relevant to society.  However, this is not without its challenges.  How exactly does an academic do this? How does one engage in a world in which knowledge is becoming democratized through social media and the proliferation of knowledge sources (both credible and biased)?  In today’s world of public and political discourse, one cannot control the message and must develop new rules of engagement that allow for more nuanced and fluid delivery of content.

While these brownbag lunches were sponsored by the sustainability-related Erb Institute, Graham Institute, Energy Institute and Risk Science Center, the intent was to cover potential academic involvement across all disciplines and public policy debates.

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Date & Time: 
Friday, January 24, 2014 - 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm
Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm
Registration Deadline: 
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 12:00 pm