Graduate Education as Intellectual Entrepreneurship: University of Texas "Citizen-Scholars"

Taking Action in the Aftermath of September 11

Graduate Education as Intellectual Entrepreneurship: University of Texas "Citizen-Scholars" Taking Action in the Aftermath of September 11

by Richard Cherwitz, Thomas Darwin and Laura Grund [1]

Following the events of September 11, the Intellectual Entrepreneurship >Program (IE) at the University of Texas at Austin asked graduate students to reflect on what their disciplines bring to an understanding of the terrorist attacks. [2]

Our invitation struck a chord in a community of students who routinely think about how to utilize their expertise to promote political, cultural, social and economic change. "We have to begin to think as we have to begin to live -- without a net -- and focus our professional attention on things that are important and meaningful to us, not only as academics, but as human beings," wrote Richard Holtzman, doctoral candidate in government. Mr. Holtzman believes that political theorists have an important contribution to make to these historical times; thus, he started a national listserv network "to facilitate discussion and establish a community dedicated to creating contextual and meaningful political theory."

Lori Stone, a fourth year doctoral student in social psychology, and a Pakistani friend were treated with hostility at a local Austin restaurant. That experience prompted Stone to begin what she calls "action research." "My colleagues and I are consumed by a desire to offer what social psychologists can offer," she wrote. "We want to help UT students cope with the attacks. Our approach connects the ability to successfully process emotional events with shifting perspectives. We're asking students to write about their thoughts and feelings on the September 11 attacks, once from their own perspective, and once from a broader perspective, and then we explore the stories together."

Students like Terry Klefstad are showing us the significance of thinking about graduate education as intellectual and artistic entrepreneurship. Ms. Klefstad, a doctoral candidate in music, is interested in exploring how historically music has served us in other times of crisis, and relating her findings to the current situation. "Music, and all art, is a way of proving that humans can produce good things that we can build rather than destroy. It's a positive affirmation of life," she said.

Tsim Schneider, an anthropology student specializing in archaeology, recalling the destruction of Buddhist statuary by the Taliban in Afghanistan, made an important cultural comment. "The fact that a politico-religious movement is willing to erase its past for its future is unsettling to me since most Americans are often brought up looking to the past to help deal with the present." Ms. Schneider also shared with us recent email from the FBI that was sent to archaeologists, asking them for equipment and expertise in excavating the World Trade Center site. "The call for archaeologists has shown me that the monstrous events of that Tuesday touch us all, and we will respond without hesitation."

Students in the IE Program are taught that intellectual activity is not complete until there is action and that knowledge should be put to work. They are challenged to "stretch" their skills and knowledge by creating opportunities for and applications of their scholarship in innovative collaborations both inside and outside the university. Alexis Chamow, an MFA student in theatre and dance, is a case in point. Ms. Chamow demonstrates how performance and art add a new dimension to our understanding of the tragedy. "Artists have many opportunities to be 'useful' in their communities especially during crises," she said.

"Performance, live art, has a way of tapping into people's souls and offering them deep contemplation, solace, and possibly communion, release."

Proving that the university is not the sole realm of intellectual prowess, and that entrepreneurship is not limited to business only, Ms. Chamow and her colleagues are creating a public, staged reading. "It's an original 'play'," she said. "It's based on email messages that have been circulating in my department as well as personal accounts of tragedy, survival, hope, despair, and fear of what is to come next." The students want to use the performance as a community-wide benefit to memorialize that day and offer their own contribution to relief efforts. "Through performance, we create with our audience an opportunity for necessary dialogue--a safe space to explore ideas and emotions so that people who do not necessarily know each other can live, for a few hours, in a communal and ritualistic setting that allows us to cry, reminds us to laugh, and challenges our beliefs by asking us to consider views that differ from our own."

And Ph.D. candidate in Management Science and Information Systems (MSIS) Michael Anderson recounted for us his explanation to undergraduate students about how statistics might contribute to understanding the tragic events. When they asked him about using statistical tools to analyze the possibility that bin Laden used the terrorist attacks to manipulate the international securities markets, Mr. Anderson introduced a concept that scholars call intervention analysis.

"The idea is to see if there are any variables that drastically change their behavior in concurrence with a specific event," Mr. Anderson said. "If we can make such statistical associations with known events, in this case September 11, security analysts, criminologists and others who rely heavily on statistical measurements might have a better understanding of how different events and circumstances affect the variables they so faithfully measure every hour, day, or month."

In thought and action graduate students are proving to us, to themselves and to our community the immense value of graduate expertise. They truly are intellectual entrepreneurs -scholars who are willing seize opportunities, marshal resources and undertake projects with the potential to make a real difference.

Besides providing new ways to understand what happened on September 11 and why, this rich array of perspectives underscores one of the core values of the IE Program, namely, that collective wisdom is perhaps the most precious asset of the academy, and the essence of a university. It is an asset that we as academics have an obligation to share with society.

Now more than ever, universities should re-evaluate traditional attitudes about educating graduate students. We must encourage students to think more boldly and broadly about how to use their knowledge to make meaningful and lasting differences not only across the disciplinary boundary lines within academia, but also in the community at large.

To accomplish this, graduate educators must provide actual opportunities for students to work in cross-disciplinary settings and to take their skills and knowledge outside their university. The IE Program represents a modest first step; it offers a framework for students and faculty at UT to build collaborative relationships with partners in the public and private sectors. Every day we see how graduate students and members of the community together find productive ways to use intellectual talent, experience, and passion to promote social, political, economic, and academic change. It is a challenge to integrate this kind of action into a doctoral program, but doing so gives us all the best chance to solve the complex problems we face.

[1] Richard Cherwitz is Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Director of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Thomas Darwin is a coordinator and faculty member in the IE Program. Laura Grund is a Masters student at the Lyndon Baines JohnsonSchool of Public Affairs and a Graduate Research Assistant for the Office of Graduate Studies.
[2] The IE Program provides interdisciplinary, credit bearing courses such as Consulting, Academic and Professional Writing, and Entrepreneurship. It gives students a hands-on introduction to complex public problems within a very immediate context--the city in which they live. They learn to use their own scholarship as a resource that is valuable and valued beyond university classrooms and academic publications.