Carina Ray, Ph.D., assistant professor of history, was a visiting scholar at Princeton University when she serendipitously crossed paths with Catherine Orenstein, a journalist and founder of the OpEd Project.
Orenstein shared statistics on public opinion voices in the media that painted a compelling story: at The New York Times, male authors write 68 percent of all op-eds; at the Washington Post it is
77 percent; and, at the online journal Salon, it’s 80 percent.
Princeton was about to become involved with the OpEd Project’s Public Voices Thought Leadership Program, a pilot project with universities to help increase the number of women’s and minority men’s voices on the op-ed pages of major publications and, thus, influence public thought on the issues of the day. Yale and Stanford Universities were also on board: was Fordham interested in joining?
“I seized the chance to bring it to our administration,” said Ray.
Thanks to support from Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Nancy Busch, Fordham College at Rose Hill Dean Michael Latham, the Office of the Provost and others, the OpEd Public Voices program got underway at Fordham last October. The yearlong program is supporting the efforts of 20 members of the Fordham faculty to cultivate their public voices, place op-eds with major news markets, and to build relationships with editors for future pieces.
“Op-Eds are front-door forums for putting ideas out into the world,” said Orenstein, herself a frequent op-ed contributor to major news media. “They drive media and thought leadership at the highest levels.
“Statistically, women, including academic women, are far less likely than their male peers to submit their ideas to a public forum. So what is being cultivated—the ideas that are shaping the conversations of our age—is overwhelmingly white and male.”
As one of Fordham’s 20 Public Voices Fellows, Ray recently had her first major op-ed, “Gadaffi and the Mercenary Myth,” published in the Huffington Post. Ray’s success was soon shared with Greg Acevedo, Ph.D., associate professor of social work, whose essay on Puerto Rico, “Somehow . . . Someday!” appeared in HuffPo’s Latino Voices section in December.
A third success story is Christiana Peppard, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology and science, whose op-ed, “Spewing Forth,” was published in Catholic Moral Theology, and who has been invited to submit to Commonweal magazine.
The Public Voices program’s formula is simple: professional journalists are assigned to faculty as mentors, providing feedback and helping faculty reshape their research and ideas in a way that is accessible to news markets. Participants convene regularly for seminars throughout the year, and attend a monthly call-in conference with a high-profile journalist or editor who is an industry insider; in December, the featured guest was Jody Kantor, author of The Obamas (Penguin, 2012).
For Acevedo, whose mentor was New York Times journalist and author Abby Ellin, the process changed how he looked at the media, as several iterations were needed to find the right voice for his market.
“As faculty we have the gatekeepers of peer review and tenure,” said Acevedo, who wrote about a topic he feels strongly about—Puerto Rican statehood. “The media has its own gate-keeping. Evidence matters in both worlds, but there is a different way of presenting it for op-eds. It is still expert opinion but one doesn’t have to hide the passion.”
Fordham’s OpEd program is being administered through the Rose Hill campus’s Office of Research, headed by Faculty Development Director James Wilson. Since 2008, the office has been working vigorously to cultivate faculty research and to help shape research projects to garner external funding and prestigious publication. The OpEd program helps, he said.
“The skills that the OpEd sessions present for writing as a public intellectual dovetail with grant writing or putting together a proposal for a publisher,” he said. “Faculty learn to prioritize those aspects of their scholarship that emphasize how their research is both novel and relevant. That exercise helps them engage not just the public, but funders, publishers and their students as well.”
Wilson added that Fordham’s social justice mission and its commitment to faculty diversity should contribute highly to the missions of the OpEd project: to promote diversity of thought and to move new faces into the public forum and beyond.
“It is one thing if OpEd changes the ethnic and gender demographic of those voices that appear in public intellectual fora, but if those voices are still coming from faculty at the same handful of institutions, I’m not certain the conversation will have been enriched as much as it could be. As a Jesuit university and as an institution outside the Ivy League, Fordham is a valuable partner in OpEd’s efforts,” said Wilson.
For Ray, who has two more op-eds in circulation, the project is more than a chance to promote diverse points of view: it is a way to vitalize the role of higher education—particularly in the humanities.
“In this moment of time when people are questioning the utility of a liberal arts education, we cannot remain isolated,” she said. “We can position ourselves as people who can think critically about a range of issues, and show how the things we know relate to the pressing issues of the day.
“We owe it to ourselves to reach the wider public.”