Has Scholarship Been Reconsidered?

New book suggests that Boyer's call for reform of tenure and promotion has had real impact -- and hit roadblocks and contradictions.
October 4, 2005

Teaching vs. research. That divide -- real or imagined -- has shaped many a faculty career and many a debate over priorities in higher education. And the dichotomy continues to be discussed today.

In 1990, however, Ernest Boyer published one of the more influential of his later works, Scholarship Reconsidered, which contended that the dichotomy was false. Boyer, who died in 1995, argued that there were multiple forms of scholarship, not just the form that produces new knowledge through laboratory breakthroughs, journal articles or new books. Scholarship, Boyer argued, also encompassed the application of knowledge, the engagement of scholars with the broader world, and the way scholars teach.

By suggesting that there are multiple forms of scholarship, Boyer also created a philosophical framework to apply tools traditionally used to evaluate scholarship (such as peer review) to these other forms of scholarship. And Boyer set off a series of projects, studies and conferences -- many from his base at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching -- to promote this broader concept of scholarship. Supporters hoped that by providing more rigor to the evaluation of multiple forms of scholarship, Boyer's campaign could lead to real changes in how faculty members are evaluated and promoted -- and a shift away from a model common at many institutions of rewarding only the traditional concept of scholarship.

For many faculty members seeking tenure, of course, the question about Scholarship Reconsidered is: Did it have an impact? Can one earn tenure or win a promotion on multiple forms of scholarship? A major effort to answer that question comes from Faculty Priorities Reconsidered: Rewarding Multiple Forms of Scholarship, a book just published by Jossey-Bass. The book features essays about the ideas of Scholarship Reconsidered, reports from nine campuses on how they have changed tenure and promotion policies, and a national survey of chief academic officers at four-year institutions on how their institutions changed in the decade following the publication of Scholarship Reconsidered.

The essays -- by faculty members and administrators alike -- show that many colleges have made real changes in tenure and promotion policies in line with Boyer's vision. But the essays come from a self-selected group of institutions: those that have embarked on changes in tenure and promotion policies and want to share their experiences. The survey suggests that the dominant change in tenure in the decade following the publication of Scholarship Reconsidered may have been more demands that faculty members be better in everything, including traditional models of research.

The survey was conducted of chief academic officers of four-year colleges nationwide, who were asked a series of questions about changes in their institutions' policies.

Chief Academic Officers' Views of Shifting Emphasis of Faculty Evaluations in Last Decade

Criterion % Saying It Counts More % Saying It Counts Same % Saying It Counts Less N/A Did Not Respond
Publication productivity 51 40 3 2 4
Teaching 35 59 2 0 4
Engagement/professional service 31 59 4 2 4
Service to institution 19 67 8 2 4
Service to profession 19 69 6 2 4

The chief academic officers were asked to classify their institutions as "reform" (those that were changing tenure and promotion policies) or "traditional" (those that weren't). While the two groups differed in some respects, even the reform camp reported more emphasis on publications. In fact, the reform camp outpaced the traditional camp in placing more emphasis on just about everything, suggesting that reform may mean asking a lot more of faculty members across the board.

Percentage of Chief Academic Officers Seeing Their Institutions Emphasizing Various Qualities in Last Decade

Criterion % of Reform Institutions Where Emphasis Has Increased % of Traditional Institutions Where Emphasis Has Increased
Publication  productivity 54% 45%
Teaching 39 26
Engagement/professional service 39 12
Service to institution 23   9
Service to profession 23 10

KerryAnn O'Meara, co-editor of Faculty Priorities Reconsidered and an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said she was "a little surprised" by how many colleges reported that they "simultaneously increased encouragement of multiple forms of scholarship and increased research expectations."

O'Meara said that she feared that as colleges have faced increased financial pressure, more may be rewarding grant-related activities as opposed to those activities related to a broader concept of scholarship.

Despite those fears, O'Meara noted that many colleges, such as those offered as case studies in the book, are changing how they evaluate faculty members.

Another new book published by Jossey-Bass, The Advancement of Learning, also looks at the way professors and colleges are trying to carry out the ideas of Scholarship Reconsidered. Mary Huber, co-author of The Advancement of Learning and a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, said that she was not surprised about the "mixed news" that colleges are asking more of everything from faculty members.

The push at many colleges for more publications and evidence of traditional scholarship "can undercut" efforts to promote broader definitions of scholarship, Huber said. But she said that it was important to recognize how much the changes taking place right now are bubbling up from faculty members irrespective of their institutions' policies. "A good bit of what's happening in teaching is going on without regard to the tenure and promotion system," she said. "These are faculty trying to solve some problems and issues."

While "real cultural change" is needed, Huber said, and the "contradictory picture" can frustrate some professors, those conflicts aren't preventing progress. "If you look only at the contradictions, it can blind you to all of the changes going on." Her book, for example, focused on the idea of the "teaching commons," in which faculty members are sharing ideas about teaching and evaluating and helping one another in a way once recognized only as something that took place in a laboratory.

And in Faculty Priorities Reconsidered, a series of essays outline changes that have been taking place to align official policies with the growing interest in broader definitions of scholarship. Among the changes:

  • Arizona State University, despite pushing hard to attract more research dollars and to raise its research profile, changed its criteria for tenure to require the pursuit of excellence in all activities, not just research. The changes, prepared by faculty members, also called for more sophisticated evaluation of teaching, and the need for "evidence and documentation" of teaching quality, not just anecdotal evidence.
  • South Dakota State has revised a number of policies to stress Boyer's concept of multiple forms of scholarship, not just the traditional research model, in tenure decisions. Prior to these changes -- and despite the strong sense at the university that teaching is a crucial mission -- many reported that the traditional research definition had a dominant role. Surveys of deans and faculty indicate that the changes have been accepted by some, but not all, of those involved in evaluating faculty members.
  • Albany State University, a historically black college in Georgia, revised its promotion criteria to specifically encourage faculty members to do research on the effectiveness of techniques they were using in the classroom. Many Albany State students arrive at the university poorly prepared, and so retention and graduation rates have been low, as have been passage rates on some state licensure exams. Professors were explicitly encouraged to test new classroom approaches to look for ideas that work, and that can be shared with others.
  • Franklin College is a private, undergraduate institution in Indiana that has always treated scholarship as a secondary criterion (to teaching) in promotion decisions. But given that faculty members have always been told to focus on teaching, many did not actively pursue scholarship, which was seen through traditional research definitions. Franklin adopted a broader definition of scholarship, based on Scholarship Reconsidered, and reports greater faculty activity in that area.


Back to Top