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Lee Badgett’s New Book Offers a Roadmap for Public Engagement

Lee Badgett, Professor of Economics and CRF Alumna

For Dr. Lee Badgett, knowledge is more than an academic pursuit. It’s a call to arms, and a mandate to make a positive contribution to the world in which we live.

Badgett, a CRF Family Research Scholar alumna (2004-05), recently celebrated the publication of her new book, The Public Professor: How to Use Your Research to Change the World. Aimed specifically at fellow professors and academics, the book is a powerful reminder that much of the research conducted in America’s universities does not reach a public audience.

Many faculty are consumed with the rigorous process of peer review for journal articles, applying for grant funding and stressing out over tenure and promotion. But considering the amount of time academics dedicate to “publish or perish,” these concerns ultimately do little to advance public policy.

Her book is an effort to change the focus of academic scholarship, shifting toward goals that serve the greater public good: social justice, political and economic equality, environmental sustainability, scientific inquiry, and other movements that affect the global population.

According to the wisdom Dr. Badgett shares in The Public Professor, it is essential that academics consider “how to use research to change minds.” She suggests that they learn how to leverage their ideas across the full spectrum of public engagement: “online, in print, at council hearings, even national legislation.”

Lee Badgett delivers testimony in front of the U.S. Senate HELP Committee in 2012[Image: Lee Badgett delivers testimony in front of the U.S. Senate HELP Committee in 2012.]

The book offers practical guidance and strategies for success. This advice is crafted from Prof’s Badgett’s own experience over twenty-five years as a policy analyst and internationally renowned expert on same-sex marriage.

Her wisdom comes in the form of a toolkit for faculty members who are seeking opportunities to discuss their research findings with a broader audience. Inside the book, one finds chapters dedicated to understanding different sides of a current debate, how to build an effective network, and the use of both traditional and social media to establish one’s brand.

“Everyone has a message,” says Prof. Badgett. The problem is that so little of the message has a chance to resonate, nor does it have much influence on the world outside of the academy. Therefore, communication with non-academics is a virtue that faculty should cultivate—especially when it comes to lawmakers, who rarely read beyond the executive summary. “[Academics] don’t talk the way that other people do,” Badgett says. “And that’s a big problem if we want to be relevant and engaged” with public officials and their constituents.

Prof. Badgett is currently Professor of Economics at UMass Amherst. She is also the Williams Distinguished Scholar at UCLA’s Williams Institute and has been director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at UMass Amherst since 2013, guiding it through its recent transition to a School of Public Policy.

Badgett is also an important figure in the Public Engagement Project (PEP) at UMass Amherst, one of CRF’s partner organizations and a valuable center of excellence on-campus. PEP’s mission is to “support and train faculty members to use their research to contribute to social change, inform public policy, and enrich public debate.”

As a long-standing participant in PEP activities and a current steering committee member, Badgett is frequently called upon to share her experiences with junior faculty at seminars and conferences. In January 2016, she spoke about The Public Professor at a PEP and CRF co-sponsored lecture.

“In my own career, the connections between engagement, research and teaching have been so closely intertwined,” she says. “Each part of that professional triangle presents opportunities for us to learn and create valuable knowledge and materials for conveying that knowledge." According to Badgett, “Somewhere, somebody needs what you know, and they need you to be the conduit for that knowledge.”

Her parting advice to faculty colleagues? “Jump in!”

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Dr. Lee Badgett’s book, The Public Professor: How to Use Your Research to Change the World, is published by New York University Press. It is available for purchase now.

Drew Thiemann, MPPA '16