Earlier this week, while speaking to a group of faculty, graduate students and staff, I was asked what universities can or should be doing to challenge the increasingly fact-free environment in which we find ourselves, one perpetuated by fake news and “alternative facts” and even direct challenges to the credibility of our research and the role of discovery.
Part of my response, which I think is worth sharing more broadly here, was that any university, and especially our University, is an extraordinary resource of knowledge, expertise and – although I don’t love the phrase – “thought leadership.”
We have not just an opportunity, but a responsibility to share the knowledge we develop with a wider world that is hungry for it. A full accounting of the knowledge and accumulated expertise at the UW would be impossible, but if we harness it together and as individuals, our collective power to inform truthfully and persuasively is formidable.
I encourage members of our community to share knowledge beyond the bounds of the academy, whether it be with policymakers looking for testimony on a given subject or with a public looking for insights. We have resources specifically geared to help you share your expertise, including a partnership with The Conversation, a news analysis site featuring articles by faculty about issues of the day. The UW Office of News and Information can connect UW faculty and graduate students with The Conversation’s editors to explore opportunities. We have had dozens of UW faculty, researchers and grad students write pieces for The Conversation, which have been republished in numerous news outlets including The Washington Post, The Atlantic and the Associated Press, and op-ed pieces for The New York Times and our own Seattle Times.
The idea of the “public intellectual” is morphing and evolving rapidly in a world where the definition of an expert can appear to be whomever shouts the loudest on cable news. But the UW is undoubtedly home to some of the world’s finest intellectuals. As a public institution, we have an obligation to put our hard-won knowledge, evidence-based conclusions and reasoned judgements to good public use.