Punditry: Have Doctorate, Will Comment
By John Glassie (New York Times, August 1, 1999)
You certainly don't need advanced academic credentials to chime in on the pressing issues of the day, or to share stunning cultural insights as a commentator on a cable news channel. If you'd like your business cards to say ''Public Intellectual,'' however, there's a new option to consider.
This fall, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton will welcome its first candidates in a new doctoral program that combines interdisciplinary humanities studies with practical training in the art of the persona. And yes, it's called the Public Intellectual Program.
It's "for those people who want to orient their futures outside the Academy, but who also want a scholarly background in their chosen field,'' said Teresa Brennan, a social theorist from Harvard who developed the curriculum as an alternative to ultraspecialized, must-publish ivory-towerism. Concentrations include gender issues, spirituality, public policy, media and popular culture, the environment, creative strategies and social movements.
The idea, Ms. Brennan stresses, is not necessarily to create prime-time pundits. ''A public intellectual may be a famous person,'' she said, ''but a lot of people have tremendous public impact who are not in the public eye.'' Among the 22 who have been accepted into the program: a woman who wants to establish a code of ethics for teachers; a photographer who wants to inject more social content into her work; an environmentalist who wants, said Ms. Brennan, ''to build bridges between the scientific conversation and the communal conversation.''
Students will study rhetoric, persuasion and strategies for dealing with the media, as well as how to speak to antagonistic audiences and write for a broad readership.
Courses like ''The Chosen: Who Makes It and Why'' will examine the career paths of successful and not-so-successful public intellectuals. (''John Stuart Mill had the affection and material awards of his culture,'' reads the catalogue description. ''Marx did not.'') And candidates will enjoy presumably inspiring visits from real-life pundits like Cornel West, Jeremy Rifkin and Stanley Fish.
At the very least, said Ms. Brennan, the successful doctorates will lead ''a much more satisfying life than they would have as a frustrated professor.''