Kathleen Fitzpatrick on the Power of Generous Thinking

“What might be possible for us if we were to retain the social commitment that motivates our critical work, while stepping off the field of competition?” Kathleen Fitzpatrick asked a rapt audience at SFU’s Harbour Centre last Wednesday, “We would have to open ourselves to the possibility that our ideas might be wrong.”

Fitzpatrick is Director of Digital Humanities at Michigan State University, the former Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association, and—most recently—the invited speaker at this year’s Munro Lecture at SFU.

Named after Jock Munro—an economist and former SFU Vice-President, Academic—the lecture series has hosted a number of acclaimed scholars over the years, including Linda Tuhiwai Smith on decolonizing the research process and Arthur Hanson on China’s green economy. This year’s edition continued the conversation started during last fall’s President’s Dream Colloquium on Making Knowledge Public.

Juan Pablo Alperin, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Joanne Curry at the Munro Lecture on Generous Thinking
Juan Pablo Alperin, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Joanne Curry at the Munro Lecture on Generous Thinking

In her talk, Fitzpatrick discussed the individualistic nature of academic life and how it impedes the relationships that exist between universities and the communities that surround them. Drawing from her newly released book, Generous Thinking, she explored the many challenges that stand in the way of a more engaged academic system and offered a radical approach to how overcoming them—starting with a complete shift in how we think about public scholarship.

Her passionate appeal resonated with many in the audience, with nods, sighs, and the occasional “Yeah!” permeating the presentation. “Generous thinking,” it seems, had been on many listeners’ minds.

As John Maxwell, Director of SFU’s Publishing Department, aptly put it, “Kathleen Fitzpatrick has elegantly articulated what many academics have been thinking—that the black and white framing of university and society is not serving anyone well, and that our culture of internal competitiveness undermines any effort to be engaged and relevant.”

So what can today’s academics do to become more engaged, relevant, and connected?

“All… possibilities begin with cultivating the ability to think generously,” Fitzpatrick offered at the end of her lecture, “To listen to one another.”  

Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Munro Lecture on Generous Thinking was presented in partnership with the SFU President’s Office, SFU Public Square, and SFU’s School of Publishing. For those who missed it, a video is available from the SFU Library.

This blog post was first published on the Scholarly Communications Lab Blog, and has been reposted here with permission.