I consider myself bilingual: I speak English and “Acadamese.” I earned a Ph.D. at The Ohio State University, and spent ten years as a full-time academic at American University and the University of Texas at Arlington. I earned tenure at UTA. I’ve published several articles in academic journals. When it come to the ivory tower of academia, I know how to walk the walk and talk the talk.
However, as many of you know, I have spent the last two decades primarily outside of the Academy (I still teach as an adjunct professor and dabble in scholarly research), working with real-live politicians and policy makers as the Director of Curriculum Development and Research for the State Legislative Leaders Foundation. One of the reasons I decided to accept the position with SLLF was a growing realization that while my academic research helped me advance in my department and climb the academic ladder, it was having little, if any, impact on political policies and processes. My work was read by a few scholars across the country with a particular interest in state legislatures and state legislative leadership, but not by legislative leaders who might benefit from its insights.
Further, my ascent to Associate Professor, participation in academic conferences, and reading of scholarly journals made me increasingly aware that the academic world had little interest in scholarship that influenced public policy or the makers of policy. Rather, editors of academic journals, reviewers of scholarly papers, and university promotion tenure committees were more interested in research that pushed the bounds of research methods, statistical complexity, and political theory, than those that might be used to improve political processes and policy outcomes.
I recently discovered that I am not the only Ph.D. to find this disconnect frustrating. Thanks to a recent call from Executive Director Avi Green, I learned about The Scholars Strategy Network (SSN). SSN is a nonpartisan, nonprofit (501c3) organization that “seeks to improve public policy and strengthen democracy by organizing scholars working in America’s colleges and universities, and connecting scholars and their research to policymakers, citizens’ associations, and the media.”
SSN now boasts more than eight hundred scholars (in 43 states) of all political and ideological stripes, committed to making their research and their findings accessible to policy makers and other government officials. They have more than two dozen active regional chapters, in all corners of the country.
According to their mission statement, the scholars who participate in the Scholars Strategy Network “endeavor to further good public policymaking and responsive democratic government.” The SSN has organized itself into a variety of work groups that focus on civic engagement, education, energy and the environment, voting rights, representation, and women’s rights, but expertise is not limited to those issues.
As someone with one foot rooted in the academic camp and the other firmly planted in the world of practical politics, I cannot express how excited I am about this endeavor, and I plan to use these scholars whenever possible in SLLF programs, research, and publications.
Even more importantly, I want to encourage you and your colleagues to contact the Scholars Strategy Network to see if there is an active chapter near you, and to find out how they can bring their expertise to your institution. This is the ultimate win-win situation. You and your colleagues get sound evidence-based advice presented in a manner that is accessible and useful, and the scholars see their research having a positive impact on society.
I know from experience and conversations that some of you are skeptical of the “ivory tower” and of the academic research produced by its scholars. Let me assure you that the only agenda of the SSN is to assist scholars in sharing their expertise and findings with you and other policy makers, in a way that informs debate and improves policy outcomes. They do not push a legislative, partisan, or ideological agenda. They do not write mock legislation. They do not try to tell you how to vote, or what bills to support. They strive to inform you and your colleagues of the latest and most pertinent research relative to their expertise; what you choose to do with that information is completely up to you and your colleagues.
If you are interested in further information about the Scholars Strategy Network, you can check out their website at http://www.scholarsstrategynetwork.org/ or better yet contact Paola Maynard-Moll at firstname.lastname@example.org or (787) 565-9321. Trust me – it will be worth the effort!
Thomas H. Little, Ph.D
SLLF Director of Curriculum Development and Research