Rethinking Scholarship

by Eric J. Weiner

Scholarship is a choice of how to live as well as a choice of career. –C. Wright Mills

In 2001, I felt lucky to get a tenure-track job in the College of Education and Human Services (CEHS) at Montclair State University (MSU) in New Jersey. Not only was the university a short jaunt from New York City, but the leadership in CEHS, in partnership with the University’s Office of the President, had instituted a faculty reward system for tenure and promotion that used Ernest Boyer’s four-pronged system of scholarship to guide its evaluation of faculty work. The Center of Pedagogy (CoP) oversaw all aspects of Boyer’s progressive model of faculty development across departments, schools and colleges as well as provided support for matters concerning pedagogy, curriculum, community-university partnerships, and learning. The move to adopt Boyer’s faculty reward system showed the University’s commitment to support the diversification of its faculty and student-body by broadening how it defined and evaluated scholarship. Given the University’s history as a normal school and the College’s deepening relationship to the work of John Goodlad, the move to embrace and build upon Boyer’s model had both intellectual as well as ideological coherence.

Writing for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Boyer’s work arises out of a frustration with the narrow way scholarship is traditionally conceptualized and rewarded within the modern university. In Scholarship Reconsidered (1990) he writes, “We believe the time has come to move beyond the tired old ‘teaching versus research’ debate and give the familiar and honorable term ‘scholarship’ a broader more capacious meaning, one that brings legitimacy to the full range of academic work.” He argues for a faculty reward system that considers the scholarship of the professoriate as having four overlapping functions: Scholarship of Discovery; Scholarship of Integration; Scholarship of Application; and Scholarship of Teaching. He rejects the idea that there should be a hierarchy of scholarship in the academy while acknowledging that Discovery and Integration–when produced for publication in peer review academic journals–have historically been recognized as the most legitimate forms of intellectual work.

In 1996, at the urging of faculty and administrators across the country who wanted to use this new system of scholarship but did not know how to assess the work being produced for each overlapping track, Boyer produced a companion to his original essay (“From Scholarship Considered to Scholarship Assessed”) which explained how universities and colleges could assess this expanded conceptualization of scholarship. Unsatisfying perhaps to those people looking for positivistic measures, he writes that first we should be evaluating a professor’s “quality of character” or, borrowing from Wayne Booth, “habits of rationality.” Under these headings appear the qualities of courage, persistence, creativity, integrity, humility, knowledgeability, and consideration.

“I recognize that these are the most difficult to measure,” Boyer writes, “but still I am convinced they are the most essential.” More empirically, and in addition to the character of the intellectual under evaluation, Scholarship of Discovery, Integration, Application, and Teaching should be assessed using the following six questions as guides. Did the scholar have clearly stated goals? Did the scholar follow well-defined and appropriate procedures? Did the scholar have adequate resources and use them in effective ways? Did the scholar communicate effectively to others? Did the scholarly effort lead to significant results? Did the scholar engage in careful and reflective self-critique? Boyer’s system of assessment is holistic, coheres to his expanded conceptualization of scholarship, and offers faculty and administrators a nuanced and complex system from which to evaluate and reward the different functions that faculty perform at different times during the span of their careers.

Even though the college had adopted Boyer’s expanded ideas about scholarship, it may have been less sure about how to utilize his progressive and controversial ideas about assessment. As such, the scholarship produced within the tracks of Discovery and Integration typically resulted in written articles submitted for publication in peer reviewed academic journals. Tenure and promotion were, in large part, still rewarded based on traditional measures of the scholarship’s measured impact, i.e., weighted journals and citation indexes. Boyer’s model did not anticipate the rapid technologies that would revolutionize the publishing industry in the next few decades. These quickly, for a subset of unconventional and public intellectuals, made the traditional academic peer review journal appear antiquated and stuck in the instrumentalized world of the ivory tower.

When I started at MSU, Boyer’s model was in place and working well. All tenure-track hires in the College chose from one of the tracks. Coming out of a Research 1 institute and educated as a “theorist” in the sociology of language, literacy, culture, and education, I was most comfortable working within the Scholarship of Integration. Boyer explains, “By integration we mean making connections across the disciplines, placing the specialties in larger context, illuminating data in a revealing way, and educating non-specialists, too…[This] is serious disciplined work that seeks to interpret, draw together, and bring new insight to bear on original research…It is through ‘connectedness’ that research is ultimately made authentic.” This scholarship is “interdisciplinary, interpretative, integrative.” By contrast, Scholarship of Discovery is a “disciplined, investigative effort” to discover new knowledge through quantitative or qualitative method-driven research.

Extending these more traditional categories of scholarship, Boyer develops the scholarly categories of Application and Teaching. Scholars working within these tracks, unlike those working in Discovery and Integration, do not typically produce work that fits into the publish/perish system of faculty reward. Within Boyer’s model, Scholarship of Application frames intellectual craftwork around three central questions: “How can knowledge be responsibly applied to consequential problems? How can it be helpful to individuals as well as institutions? Can social problems themselves define an agenda for scholarly investigation?” These three questions bring attention to the need to bridge “the gap between values in the academy and the needs of the larger world.” Within this category of Application, there is an essential appeal to rethink scholarship as a kind of critical praxis because “theory and practice vitally interact, and one renews the other.” “It is frankly ironic,” Boyer writes, “that we have in the past 100 years brought in the academy schools of medicine, law, business, education, physical education and the like, all of them assuming knowledge should be applied—and yet we give no credit to those colleges for the essential work that they are called upon to do…When you get tenured into the school of education, it is not to go out and work with children in the schools, but to write another research paper.” The need for Scholarship of Application is just as important as Discovery and Integration, because “our troubled planet can no longer afford the luxury of pursuits confined to an ivory tower” (Oscar Hadlin quoted in Boyer).

Scholarship of Teaching begins with the pedagogical knowledge of the professor as it merges with the cultural knowledge and experiences of her students; “knowing and learning are communal acts.” For teaching to be considered a scholarly praxis, professors must be deeply knowledgeable and intellectually engaged; widely read beyond their immediate fields of expertise; understand not only their fields of specialization but also the art and science of teaching and learning; and “transform” and “extend” their knowledge beyond the borders of the classroom and school. Like those working in the Application track, the scholarship produced under the rubric of Teaching does not fit neatly into the publish/perish system of faculty reward. The work produced in this scholarship track is often in the schools, working directly with administrators, teachers and students, and doesn’t necessarily result in a paper that can be submitted to a peer reviewed research journal. It’s value and impact, like the work being done in the service of Application, must be determined using Boyer’s alternative system of assessment. Boyer argues that professors who engage in the Scholarship of Teaching should be recognized and rewarded in the same way as those involved in producing scholarship that gets published in academic journals.

Around 2005 at MSU, with a change of leadership in the University, CoP, and CEHS, Boyer’s progressive system of scholarship and assessment was replaced with the Research-Teaching-Service model of faculty reward and evaluation more commonly used in universities throughout the county. One of the reasons for the change was the university wanted to be recognized and designated as a Research Institution as this is defined by the Carnegie Classification system. Boyer’s model of scholarship and its assessment did not align with the Carnegie system nor did it support the University’s new research oriented agenda for faculty (i.e., publish traditional, data-driven research in weighted, disciplinary focused, peer review academic journals). Research that counts within the Carnegie system is measured almost exclusively through various indexical systems that track citations within weighted academic peer-review journals. In what articulates with a business model of efficiency in the neoliberal university, Henry Giroux observes, “data is exchanged for knowledge.” From a philosophical perspective, Max Horkheimer argued that the move to instrumentalize scholarship and its evaluation undermines our ability to take a complex accounting of the world’s most pressing problems.

Ignoring William Bruce Cameron’s famous quip that “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted,” the leadership reverted to a system of faculty reward that willy-nilly began a slow yet deliberate slide into a formative culture of instrumental positivism. Beyond disciplining the production of scholarship, a culture of positivism locks the social imagination into a modern-day Weberian “iron cage of rationality.” This one-dimensional conceptualization of scholarship and assessment runs counter to the opening of the university to more diverse voices and perspectives. As Boyer notes, after WWII and the GI Bill transformed higher education from an “elite to a mass system” and, soon after, people from the rank and file of feminist, civil rights, LGBTQ, labor, disability rights, and other social justice movements forced their way into the buttressed halls of the university, to reduce what counts as meaningful scholarship is not only a contradiction, but “is an ethical violation of what our pronouncements are all about.”

In comparison to 1990 and 1996 when Boyer first presented his work on scholarship and assessment, the world in 2022 in many ways is unrecognizable. Yet, his ideas, with some revision, are more relevant now than they were when he first presented them. I believe Boyer’s model of scholarship and assessment could help restore the critical function of the public university, although given the significant evolution in technology and our critical understanding of the roles and responsibilities of intellectuals working within deeply articulated “glocalized” structures, his system needs to be expanded to include two more scholarly tracks: Scholarship of Technology and Aesthetic Creation and Scholarship in the Public Interest.

Scholarship of Technology and Aesthetic Creation responds to the ubiquitous nature of technology’s relationship to the aesthetic imagination in the 21st century. There is not one academic discipline that is not touched by new and emerging technologies. From art and literature to education and philosophy, it demands its own research track. Scholars doing work in this track first have a deep and sophisticated understanding of old, new, and emerging technologies. Technology is both a subject of inquiry as well as a practical tool of research. Scholars of Technology and Aesthetic Creation locate themselves epistemologically in the metaverse between form and function; technology is both an object of critique, a means by which to expand our understanding of knowledge and research, an aesthetic force that reconstitutes our essential relationship to the world and each other, and a way to release what Maxine Greene called the social imagination from the Weberian cage of instrumental rationality. These scholars are “doers” not simply users, insiders not outsiders. From coding and urban design to social and cultural theory, scholarly work on and in technology plays at the intersection of knowledge, aesthetics, practice, and the radical imagination.

Scholars working within this track could be doing historical research which maps emerging technologies onto past discoveries and practices. They might be integrating existing research in gaming, teaching and learning to extend our knowledge about technology and the development of curriculum. They might be investigating the emergence of new technologies against the sociological architecture of new cultural formations of which they help give rise. New technologies could be studied within the context of new literacies, bringing attention to the emergence of new social formations built on the architecture of this knowledge. Scholars of Technology could research the social and political implications of emerging technologies on developing, developed and information economies. Technology could be viewed and interrogated as a fluid intersection of new cultural formations, overlapping in ways that demand a renewed focus on representations and their impact on our understanding and participation in/on realities. Developments in cyborg technology, healthcare, and capital surveillance might be researched from the perspective of hardware, software, and philosophy. Scholarship of technology could also be applied work that is used in schools, work spaces, or in the service of social movements. Scholars of technology could think about its pedagogical implications on not just learning and teaching, but on the broader category of education. Scholars might ask, How does technology drive different forms of public pedagogy and what are the political and social ramifications of these new formations of power in our lives? Languages of technology and the technology of language, from translation and coding to translingualism, could also be a focus for these scholars.

In terms of reporting their work, scholars on this track could design technologically sophisticated online and digitized representations that would appear on the internet and across various digital platforms. Their work might be interactive, evolving through crowd sourced levels of mass participation, game-oriented, and/or driven by a new aesthetic only possible within the context of new technologies. Art installations, performance art, soundscapes, and other types of cultural production would also be powerful ways to represent the knowledge being produced under the broad parameters of this track of scholarship. Visually compelling, epistemologically fluid, multi-perspectival, and untethered by conventional notions of time and space, the possibilities for representing this track of scholarship is limited only by our imaginations and the available resources.

Scholarship in the Public Interest combines Application with Integration and is built on a long history of important intellectual work both within and outside of the academy. Bertrand Russell, bell hooks, Stanley Aronowitz, Noam Chomsky, Eddie Glaude, Howard Zinn, Arundhati Roy, Edward Said, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Cornell West, Malcom X, and Henry Giroux are just some of the people, past and present, who produce(ed) nuanced, complex, theoretically grounded scholarship of this nature. With the advent of serious-minded online journals over the past ten years, such as 3 Quarks Daily, Counterpunch, PESA Agora, Aeon, Salon, Truthout, n+1, Democracy, Hedgehog Review, The Point, and Quillette plus the relatively recent growth of online “membership newsletters” like Substack, there is a democratic revolution of exceptional scholarship being produced in the public interest, yet outside of traditional peer review academic journals. The work crosses traditional academic disciplinary boundaries, rejects intellectual silos in exchange for a broader community of intellectuals whose work continually tries to think against the grain of history. Giroux, one of the most prolific and important public intellectuals working today, in response to this new formation of scholarship says, “There’s an integration of knowledge and discipline and values and concerns that says we can’t do this alone. We’re not isolated intellectuals living in silos – in a time of tyranny and urgency, we need to re-think that role.” As we rethink the role of the scholar as public intellectual, we need to also rethink how we can recognize and reward this kind of scholarship.

University administrators who dismiss this new, hybrid form of critical scholarship because its value and impact can’t be easily measured using citation indexes and other instrumental tools of assessment are essentially marginalizing the voices of scholars who don’t fit into the positivistic culture of the neoliberal university. These scholars are given the “choice” to either produce knowledge that serves the public interest beyond the university and potentially sacrifice getting a promotion and/or tenure or adhere to the demands of the university and sacrifice their integrity, passion, political commitments, and creativity. There is also a social cost for marginalizing these scholars as their intellectual craftwork, easily measured or not, shapes the ideas, attitudes, and behaviors of those outside of academia.

The contradiction discussed above in relation to mass access and unitary measures of value and impact is not only a theoretical problem; it potentially takes vital resources away from the ranks of the professoriate that might need them the most while creating a demoralizing academic culture that hides its ideological agenda behind appeals to data and science. This is an ethical violation of what I am calling the “academic contract.” The academic contract refers to the faculty and students’ relationship to the university’s rules, procedures, and norms of behavior. A strong academic contract, one that compels faculty and students to voluntarily and enthusiastically agree to follow the official rules, norms, and procedures of the institution rests on the perceived fairness, transparency, inclusivity, and integrity of these processes. For the university to fairly serve the interests of an increasingly diverse constituency of stakeholders, it must adjust and broaden the way it views, supports, and rewards the “unconventional” intellectual craftwork that is being done in the service of the public interest by faculty and students. It must recognize that there are many legitimate and critical “ways of knowing” that do not fit into the peer review, data driven, positivistic model of scholarship and faculty reward that continues to be used in research institutions across the country. To move the research university into the 21st century–to make it relevant outside of the interests of business–we must work more diligently to unshackle it from antiquated and instrumentalized measures of impact and value.