The need for and value of civic engagement is widely acknowledged and frequently advocated by students and faculty at American universities. Over the last several decades, recognizing the variety of forms of scholarly research and academic achievement has become commonplace on many campuses. The Carnegie Foundation now assesses and validates community engagement as one critical measure of a university’s identity and success. Many faculty stress community involvement, internships, and various forms of experiential learning in their courses and view them as critical components of a university education. Numerous faculty engage in communityengaged research, working with local organizations, local businesses, and city and town governments, solving problems and helping to collect data and information. There exists a considerable literature—by and for faculty—documenting the scholarship and pedagogical impact of civic engagement strategies and the promotion of communityengaged research.
Frequently, however, such activities are not rewarded or supported in the recognition and promotion process of faculty in higher education. Faculty and universities are still judged primarily by the research profile of their individual and combined achievements. This profile exclusively rewards models which assume that all valid knowledge of the physical and social world is obtained by faculty pursuing their research agendas and getting validation for that work in the form of peer-reviewed publications, successful grant applications, and recognition in national and international discipline-based associations. While some universities are recognizing emerging forms of scholarship in ways that challenge this traditional model, there are powerful counterforces that undermine higher education’s commitment to community engagement. The decline in funding for state universities and the competition over fewer and fewer funding opportunities have pushed many institutions to return to a narrow model of excellence built on traditional ideas about academia’s function and role. Increasingly, universities are engaged in a prestige race in which the winners are defined by the presence of star faculty (i.e., those who publish widely, obtain large grant-funded research projects, and who receive wide public acclaim for their research) and by their success at recruiting top students and placing them in high paying, high skill careers. Administrators focus on encouraging these traditional activities as they seek funds from wealthy sponsors, alumni, foundations, and grant funding institutions to replace dwindling state support. The recognition of faculty committed to community engagement is often counterbalanced by institutional striving for higher prestige through narrow and restrictive measures of excellence.
Our concern for finding better ways to recognize the work of University of Massachusetts (UMass) faculty who pursue emerging forms of scholarship, including community engagement—and who encourage their students in community engagement—prompted a one-day seminar on the assessment and reward structure for university faculty’s community engagement activities. As a result of a vibrant and active discussion that showcased what has been happening on the five campuses of the UMass system, we have formulated the following statement of concerns and actions needed to better recognize the value of community engagement for students, faculty, our campuses, and the University as a whole.
Part of the UMass Boston Community-Engaged Teaching, Research, and Service Series. //scholarworks.umb.edu/engage
Saltmarsh, John; Wooding, John; and McLellan, Kat, "The Challenges of Rewarding New Forms of Scholarship: Creating Academic Cultures that Support Community-Engaged Scholarship, A report on a Bringing Theory to Practice seminar held May 15, 2014" (2014). New England Resource Center for Higher Education Publications. 49.