Inaugural Ranck Lecture challenges faculty, celebrates scholarship
With the scholarship of fellow faculty members displayed behind the audience, April Kelly-Woessner, professor of political science and chair of the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Legal Studies at Elizabethtown College, presented the inaugural Ranck Lecture. Faculty and staff members of the College made up the majority of the audience as Kelly-Woessner spoke about the role of the public intellectual.
Prior to the lecture, Kristi Kneas, dean for academic affairs and faculty development, presented the inaugural Ranck Award for Research Excellence to Kelly-Woessner.
“The Ranck Award is the recognition of a faculty member actively engaged in their field who has an extra dimension to share with students,” said John P. Ranck ’58, a faculty member emeritus and former chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, for whom the award is named. “[Kelly-Woessner] excellently reflects the award with her topic and as a scholar active in her field,” Ranck said.
During the March 28 lecture, which took place in the Winters Alcove of the High Library, Kelly-Woessner argued that she and her colleagues should do more to be public intellectuals and challenge the rise of misinformation and bias such as “fake news.” She said she believes that information should inform public discourse and encouraged her colleagues to share their research with the public through blogs, social media and reputable publications.
Producing discomfort for the comfortable is April’s specialty.”
Kelly-Woessner’s own research has been published in publications such as “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” “The Wall Street Journal,” “The New York Times,” “The Washington Post,” “The Guardian” and “Science Magazine.” When sharing her research with the public, Kelly-Woessner said she changes the language so those outside of her field can understand it, and she encouraged her colleagues to do the same by cutting buzzwords and jargon.
According to Kneas, the clarity and thoroughness of Kelly-Woessner’s application is part of the reason the professor won the Ranck Award. Kneas said she appreciated that it could be understood by the general public.
In her lecture, Kelly-Woessner gave three examples of how she has shared research. Each challenged a claim: Liberal professors are indoctrinating students; conservatives are discriminated against in higher education; and young people are more tolerant than previous generations.
Though she used research to dispute each claim, she also included “some nugget of truth for the other side.” With the increasing skepticism toward academia, she said she believes it is important to be objective and present a balance of evidence.
“I can’t please everyone, but I’m good at angering both sides,” Kelly-Woessner said to audience laughter. E. Fletcher McClellan, professor of political science, agreed. “Producing discomfort for the comfortable is April’s specialty,” McClellan said. He also described her as a “professional skeptic” and an “equal opportunity offender.”
Her lecture, he said, led him to realize that he also tries to include the other side of the argument in his opinion editorials.
At the end of each example, Kelly-Woessner showed some of the publications in which the research has been published. Her last example, which argued that young people are less tolerant than their elders, has yet to be published, but she has shared the research through blogs.
To conclude the lecture, Kelly-Woessner, who writes a monthly column for LNP a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, news organization, again encouraged her colleagues to share their research with those outside of their fields.
A question and answer session followed the lecture and allowed audience members to interact with Kelly-Woessner. The conversation continued as attendees migrated to the refreshment table and the College’s Celebration of Achievements in Scholarship, which included articles, books, book chapters and conference papers.
“On the one hand, the event elevates the research recognized by the award, but on the other hand, it levels the field by recognizing all faculty scholarship,” said Jennifer Strain, instruction and scholarly communication librarian, who collected the research for the display.
“Dr. Kelly-Woessner is a refreshing presence in this politically polarized society,” said sophomore Ken Wallace, who was part of a group of political science majors who had formed a circle by the refreshment table, discussing the lecture. “Dr. Kelly-Woessner is a true gift to the faculty and staff,” said Kayla Gruber, senior political science major.
Rachel Lee’s bio
Rachel Lee is a junior English – professional writing major with minors in Spanish and creative writing. She currently works for the College’s student-run newspaper, the “Etownian,” as the features editor. She also is exploring a career in grant writing as she works for the Social Enterprise Institute at Elizabethtown College.