Tenure Reconsidered (a Bit)

More than 20 years after landmark study seeking to redefine teaching-research connection, new analysis finds lots of impact in classrooms, but less when it comes time for promotion.
August 31, 2011

Scholarship was reconsidered. Tenure, not so much.

That's the conclusion of a new book, The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Reconsidered: Institutional Integration and Impact (Jossey-Bass), the latest in a series of examinations by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching of the impact (potential and realized) of the late Ernest Boyer's 1990 work, Scholarship Reconsidered.

The new book is full of examples of the impact of Scholarship Reconsidered -- in the work of faculty members at all kinds of institutions. Further, the new book argues that the ideas of Scholarship Reconsidered could dovetail nicely with the assessment movement, given that both focus on student learning outcomes. But the work being released this week finds mixed results when it comes to applying Scholarship Reconsidered to the tenure and promotion process -- and acknowledges that this reality may be holding back efforts to institutionalize Boyer's ideas.

Boyer's central idea in the book was to question the dichotomy of teaching and research as separate, largely unrelated functions. He promoted the idea of "the scholarship of teaching" in which the rigors of controlled experiments, peer review, and sustained research would be applied to pedagogy -- from the redesign of courses to developing entirely new curriculums or rethinking a classic textbook. Central to his thinking was that colleges and universities needed to reward such contributions -- and to do so not just in the teaching and service portions of the teaching/research/service split of promotion criteria. Rather, Boyer and his supporters have argued, these contributions should be seen -- just as a lab breakthrough or a monograph might -- as research contributions to a discipline.

But that's not happening with any consistency, the new book says.

"[T]here remains a troubling gap between rhetoric about teaching's value and the realities of teaching's recognition and reward," write the three authors, Pat Hutchings, director of the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning; Mary Taylor Huber, a senior scholar emerita at the Carnegie Foundation; and Anthony Ciccone, a professor of French and director of the Center for Instructional and Professional Development at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

Even amid widespread interest in applying the ideas of the scholarship of learning, they write that progress will be held back, and careers will not be rewarded appropriately, without change.

"This work must be recognized and rewarded in systems of faculty evaluation if it is to influence what larger numbers of faculty (not just heroes, saints and martyrs) see as possible and desirable to do in their roles as teachers, citizens of their institutions and disciplines, and contributors to knowledge," the book says.

Within the faculty reward rubric, the authors write, Boyer's ideas have contributed to a more systematic approach to evaluating teaching. But there has been very limited adoption of his ideas in the evaluation of research (for those who wish to count such contributions as research). Even with some policies that encourage faculty members to do so, the book says that "campus leaders are quick to point out that recognition for the scholarship of teaching and learning as research is by no means yet assured."

The book calls for campus leaders to develop specific policies and timelines to assure that this changes, but the book acknowledges that change could continue to be slow.

In an interview, Huber, one of the authors, stressed that she did see real progress in considering the scholarship of teaching and learning with regard to evaluating teaching. Boyer's ideas have resulted in reviews of teaching that are "so much more than student evaluations," she said.

Counting these contributions as research is more difficult, Huber acknowledged. She noted that, in many cases, colleges have general policies, and leave it to academic departments to define how to carry out those policies. "Until recently, you could easily have committees where very few people other than the person under consideration for tenure was knowledgeable about these approaches," she said.

Huber said that she is hopeful that change will spread, and that more faculty members will be awarded tenure or promotions on the basis of their scholarship of teaching. "But the progress is uneven and difficult to track," she said. One goal for the book is to encourage more discussion of these issues, so that the progress may be less uneven in the future, she said.


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