Two years ago, a small group of academics who live and work in the Avon Hills–a tract of hills, woods, lakes, marshes, and oak savanna in northern Stearns county, roughly contiguous with Keillor’s Lake Wobegon—began meeting once a month as the Avon Hills Salon to talk about what it might mean these days to be a public intellectual. We found ourselves in agreement with the cultural critic Henry Giroux, who wrote, “All too often, academics produce work that is either too abstract for a generally informed public, or they separate their scholarship from the myriad of issues and contemporary problems that shape everyday life in the United States and abroad.”
Giroux is not alone in this estimation. Two decades ago, in “The Scholarship of Engagement,” Ernest Boyer lamented the seeming detachment of higher education from the wider public and called for academics to be a “more vigorous partner in the search for answers to our most pressing social, civic, economic, and moral problems.” And more recently, in a 2014 article published by the American Association of University Professors, Nicholas Behm, Sherry Rankins-Robertson, and Duane Roen ask, “What would be the combined effect if every faculty member in the United States devoted even a small amount of time and energy to informing the general public about what faculty do?”
Thoughts from the Avon Hills is our attempt to answer to this question, to walk the walk rather than just talk the talk and collectively create a venue in which we bring our scholarship out of the ivory tower and into the world. Our goal is to talk with you, our readers, and with each other about some of the most pressing issues facing American society today. Those of us who make up the Avon Hills Salon have a variety of areas of expertise—economics, political science, international affairs, contemporary religions, technology, languages & classics, and the environment.
We’ve chosen to start a blog because, well, 140 characters is just too short and academic papers are just too long—and too academic. The Avon Hills are in many ways remarkably rural and unspoiled. But technology brings the world to us. Now we hope to use it to bring our thoughts back to the world. We plan for new posts at least biweekly and hope that both separately and together we will shed new light on a wide variety of things that are going on in our country and in our world.
Welcome to Thoughts from the Avon Hills.
Avon Hills photos courtesy of Saint John’s Abbey