Evan Kindley’s article “Growing Up in Public: Academia, Journalism, and the New Public Intellectual” wrestles with the debate between relevance and accessibility that is contingent on the separation between “‘the public’ and ‘the academy’” and how a shift in the discourse, for Kindley, “provides an opportunity to help more people understand our activities as scholars and why they’re important” (468). I, myself, have recently found myself in a sort of internal struggle with this very problem. When I asked one of my mentors, “Does what we do matter?” with a genuine feeling of concern in my mind, and on my face. In turn, she shrugged and smiled. The short answer is this, it matters to us. But if we cannot share it with others, we run the risk of being obsolete. There is no real need to compete or argue over who might be better equipped to be a public intellectual, or even to redefine it. As Kindley notes, “[i]n the best case scenario, both sides are challenged to produce better work by adjusting to norms not native in their professions, thus raising the level of discourse of cultural criticism as a whole” (469). But is this just an intellectual utopian fantasy that we might never be able to actualize?
Of course, the space the public intellectual occupies is different than where the academic rests. The conventions of the academy challenge the academics ability to enter the public sphere reputably, and without stepping on anybody’s proverbial toes. More pressing for the academic in training, where, as Kindley notes, “public writing [is] not discouraged, but delayed: it [is] seen as a valuable activity, but one that ought to be pursued once one’s disciplinary bona fides were in order” (471). This is indeed a problem that us graduate students seem to face. When is the right time to bridge this gap? Are graduate students allowed to exist in both these spheres? More importantly, do they have the time and the means to do so? If the humanities academics want a more public presence, then shouldn’t that be incorporated alongside the traditional professionalization of academics in their graduate programs? We are the producers of the knowledge, the future of the disciplines, why would we hold our voices back?