Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Reviving the Public Intellectual

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Reviving the Public Intellectual

Article excerpt

The academic world has been in agony ever since Russell Jacoby blamed it a dozen years ago for the disappearance of freelance "public intellectuals" in the mold of Lewis Mumford and Edmund Wilson, unaffiliated thinkers who could speak with authority on a variety of public issues. "The missing intellectuals," he wrote in The Last Intellectuals (1987), "are lost in the universities," caught in the tender trap of tenure, overspecialization, and comfortable irrelevance.

So true! So true! wailed many academics. But what to do?

Now a Florida university has come up with the obvious solution: a new Ph.D. program. "The world's first doctoral program for public intellectuals is being launched in the reviving Renaissance atmosphere of South Florida, where Spanish influences are playing a major role in shaping the new artistic and intellectual life of America," says the announcement from Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton. The new doctoral program "will combine theoretical and concrete analysis, exploring historical, conceptual and practical relationships among areas such as public policy, mass media, literature, aesthetics, ethics, gender, culture and rhetoric."

But all of the laments about the disappearing public intellectual strike Carlin Romano, literary critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer, as absurd. …

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