Diversity and Democracy

Creating an Academic Culture that Supports Community-Engaged Scholarship

An increasing number of campuses are working to build systems of incentives and supports for faculty who undertake community-engaged scholarship. Recognizing that the policies and cultures that shape faculty behavior for career advancement have not kept pace with changes in knowledge production and dissemination, many campuses are at some stage in the process of reconsidering and revising their reward structures to provide recognition for new forms of scholarship, including community-engaged, digital, and interdisciplinary scholarship.

Such revisions are necessary to validate faculty work that, although inadequately rewarded, is already occurring. Findings from the 2010–11 Faculty Survey from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California–Los Angeles demonstrate the scale of community-engaged scholarship now taking place. Among faculty respondents to the survey, 42.5 percent reported that they have "collaborated with the local community in research/teaching" during the past two years (Hurtado et al. 2012). As Tierney and Perkins observe,

the professional reward structure needs to shift. Institutions need a diversity of routes to academic excellence and some of them will pertain to being involved outside the ivory tower.… Academic work needs to have an impact in order to provide society's return on investment.… For that to happen, the reward structure and those practices that socialize faculty need to shift in a way that supports engagement rather than disdains it. (Forthcoming)

Like other institutions around the nation and the globe that feel compelled by such imperatives, the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass Boston) is examining the need for new and revised structures to reward innovative forms of scholarship. The institutional case study we present here represents one part of a journey spanning several decades as faculty and researchers have sought ways of rewarding community-engaged scholarship—that is, work that connects teaching, research, and service with active engagement in communities. While our journey is in many ways unique to our campus, it echoes the journeys of many higher education institutions.

Institutional Context

UMass Boston is classified by the Carnegie Foundation as both a "Research, High Activity" campus and as a "Community Engaged" campus. It has a rich history of mission-driven commitments that engage campus constituents with local, state, regional, national, and global communities. According to the university's mission and values statement,

As a campus community, we address critical social issues and contribute to the public good, both local and global…. We forge partnerships with communities, the private sector, government, health care organizations, other colleges and universities, and K–12 public education, and bring the intellectual, technical, and human resources of our faculty, staff, and students to bear on pressing economic and social needs.

This mission is reflected in the actions of our leadership. Our chancellor speaks regularly of the importance of community engagement to the campus, and the institution often publicizes its contributions to the community. Our faculty, too, engage with these values: in a 2009 survey, one-third of our faculty members identified their research as community engaged or publicly engaged. In 2011, the university established an Office of Community Partnerships to better align and support community engagement across the campus and to collect and report data on engagement activities. That office reports that UMass Boston faculty are involved in over 450 community partnerships.

While these findings all indicate widespread support for community-engaged scholarship at our institution, our faculty rewards policies, which have not been revised since 1976, do not mention community-engaged scholarship or offer criteria to evaluate and reward it. When faculty involvement in such practices is rewarded, it is recognized primarily as "service" and sometimes as "teaching" (in the form of service-learning pedagogies). Because UMass Boston is a research university, it is particularly important in our context that community-engaged research be considered legitimate scholarship as well. Yet despite the university's strong commitment to community engagement, community-engaged scholarship is not explicitly rewarded as scholarship—that is, as engaged scholarly work across all the faculty roles.

This disconnect is unfortunate, as faculty who ascribe to practices associated with community-engaged scholarship, such as participatory epistemologies and collaborative knowledge generation, often are inclined to integrate their faculty roles so that their teaching, research, and service complement and reinforce one another. In addition, these faculty often are inclined to enact community-engaged, active, and collaborative pedagogies such as service learning that are considered "high-impact educational practices." Research indicates that increased opportunities to participate in such high-impact practices enhance the academic success of students who are systematically and traditionally underserved in higher education (Kuh and O'Donnell 2013). Rewarding community-engaged scholarship thus has implications for underserved student success.

Working Group Investigations

In fall 2012, UMass Boston's provost established a nine-member working group (comprised of faculty, center directors, and a graduate student) to report on effective ways of promoting, supporting, evaluating, and rewarding community-based research and engaged scholarship. (The inclusion of a graduate student perspective was important because graduate students face many of the same challenges as junior faculty in finding validation for community-engaged research while establishing their academic identities.) The working group held a series of campus-wide meetings with faculty, staff, graduate students, and community partners to gather information and assess successes and challenges associated with community engagement. As a result of these meetings, the working group concluded that an integrated approach supporting community engagement across faculty roles was necessary in order to advance community-engaged scholarship. 

After a year of study, in fall 2013, the provost asked the working group to recommend better ways of evaluating and rewarding faculty for community engagement and community-engaged scholarship. Based on a literature review, a study of best practices at universities nationally, an examination of our university's policies, and a survey of department and college practices, the working group issued a report in spring 2014 (Warren et al.). In making its recommendations, the working group conceived of "rewards" broadly, with the aim of addressing policies, structures, and practices that would be critical to supporting community engagement and effecting cultural change. The report's authors argued that the campus has an opportunity to build on its strengths in community engagement and become an international leader in the field.

The report's recommendations fall into four areas: guidelines for inclusion in tenure and promotion policies; changes to the Annual Faculty Report; a new award for community-engaged scholarship; and continuation and expansion of a public service grant opportunity for faculty who conduct community-engaged research.  Recommendations in each of these areas are summarized below.

Tenure and Promotion Guidelines

Faculty involvement in community-engaged projects can touch on each of the three categories of work considered in personnel matters concerning tenure and promotion—research, teaching, and service. Community-engaged work in each if these areas should be considered as part of the tenure and promotion review. The idea of rewarding community-engaged research may represent the greatest challenge to traditional faculty reward structures. Therefore, policies should clearly recognize that community-engaged research, although not required of all faculty, is one significant way of contributing to a field. At UMass Boston, after determining that both the university's tenure and promotion policies and the contract used by the faculty and professional union contained open language that did not preclude valuing community-engaged research, the working group recommended that the provost issue a set of guidelines for the inclusion of community-engaged research in tenure and promotion considerations. In its report, the group offered the following policy language:

Community-engaged research and creative activity results from a partnership between faculty member(s) and community groups or members, broadly conceived. Scholarship is community engaged when it involves reciprocal partnerships and addresses public purposes. It also meets the standards of scholarship when it involves inquiry, advances knowledge, and is open to review and critique by relevant scholar and community or professional peers. Scholarship is community engaged when faculty, students, community-based organizations, government agencies, policy makers, and/or other actors work together to identify areas of inquiry, design studies and/or creative activities, implement activities that contribute to shared learning and capacity building, disseminate findings and make recommendations or develop initiatives for change. (Warren et al. 2014, 9)

The working group recommended that each department and college take responsibility for determining what forms of community engagement are relevant to its respective fields. While the findings of community-engaged scholarship can be published in traditional academic venues like peer-reviewed journals and university press books, this kind of scholarship often produces other kinds of products, including (but not limited to) published reports, exhibits and multimedia forms of presentation, installations, clinical and other service procedures, programs and events, and court briefings and legislation. Departments and colleges need to identify ways of evaluating the quality and impact of these other research outputs.

To assess the quality and impact of the full range of faculty's research activity, departments might need to solicit input from parties other than peer academics (although these peers would remain the majority of evaluators). Personnel committees may want to request external evaluation letters from community and professional experts and from community-engaged scholars who are capable of assessing the work of the faculty member under review. The working group recommended that the provost provide guidelines to department and college personnel committees for discussion and implementation.

The Annual Faculty Report

Faculty in the University of Massachusetts system are required to submit an Annual Faculty Report (AFR) that covers the three categories considered in tenure and promotion reviews. This report is used to help assess a faculty member's eligibility for merit pay and becomes part of each person's tenure and promotion file. The working group recommended that the AFR include documentation of faculty members' community engagement in relation to teaching, research and creative activity, and service. The group also recommended that the AFR template reference community engagement using the following language:

To gather better data on faculty collaboration with community partners, for the purpose of the AFR, community engagement is the partnership of university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity and enhance curriculum, teaching and learning. It is community engaged when it involves reciprocal partnerships in research, teaching, and service addressing a broad range of issues in local, regional, national, and global communities. (Warren et al. 2014, 14)

By incorporating community-engaged practices into the AFR, the working group aimed to use an existing structure to provide opportunities for faculty to document and receive recognition for their community engagement activities. To address concerns that including community engagement in the AFR would suggest that faculty are required to conduct community-engaged scholarship, the working group was careful to use language clearly indicating that such scholarship was just one way of fulfilling faculty responsibilities.

Chancellor's Award

Each year, the university recognizes faculty excellence by celebrating the accomplishments of faculty members who have made exceptional contributions in the three primary areas of faculty responsibility with the Chancellor's Awards for Distinguished Scholarship, Teaching, and Service. While any of these awards could recognize community engagement, such recognition is typically reserved for the service category. Consequently, community-engaged scholarship remains largely unrecognized as a valued form of scholarship.

The working group recommended that an award for community-engaged scholarship be added to the annual Chancellor's Awards. The group offered the following articulation for the award:

The University of Massachusetts Boston is an urban research university that seeks to serve its urban, regional, national, and global communities in a number of ways. Vital to this mission is scholarship that addresses the concerns and opportunities of these communities. Such scholarship (1) involves academic projects that engage faculty members and students in a collaborative and sustained manner with community groups; (2) connects university outreach with community organizational goals; (3) furthers mutual productive relationships between the university and the community; (4) entails shared authority in the research process from defining the research problem, choosing theoretical and methodological approaches, conducting the research, developing the final product(s), to participating in peer review; (5) results in excellence in engaged scholarship through such products as peer-reviewed publications, collaborative reports, documentation of impact, and external funding; and (6) is often integrated with teaching and/or with service activities. (Warren et al. 2014, 38)

By awarding community-engaged scholarship as its own category of work, the university would recognize its distinct value to the institution and offer a concrete reward to faculty who excelled in this area.

Public Service Grants

Community engagement and community-engaged scholarship are advanced when faculty receive recognition and resources for conducting it. UMass Boston currently offers a public service grant opportunity for faculty who conduct community-engaged research. This grant is a good example of how the campus can specifically articulate and reward community-engaged scholarship while also helping faculty build a foundation for applying for external funding.

At present, the public service grants are funded annually at a level of $30,000, with each recipient receiving a maximum award of $10,000. The working group recommended increased funding for this modest grant program as another way of promoting and strengthening community-engaged research at the campus.

Preliminary Implementation

In a May 2014 meeting with the provost, members of the working group discussed the report recommendations and (1) asked that the provost make the report public, which he did immediately; (2) offered to work with the Office of Faculty Development to create workshops for senior faculty on how to evaluate community-engaged scholarship, and for junior faculty on how to develop a community-engaged research agenda and present it as scholarly work; and (3) requested that the provost include a statement on the value of community-engaged scholarship in his memorandum on guidelines for faculty personnel reviews.

On this last point, in August 2014, the provost issued a revised memo offering "Guidelines for Major Faculty Personnel Reviews" that includes the following new language: 

As part of the university's evolution, we have sought over the years to make more explicit the university's expectations in matters of personnel review. Community engaged scholarship is one such area of review. Faculty members whose research focus is community engagement should have the results of that research (shared in refereed journals or established publishing venues, for instance) treated equally with other areas of research emphases. (Langley 2014, 3)

This step, while a positive development, is indicative of the ways in which our organizational culture struggles to adapt to changing circumstances. By specifically including community-engaged scholarship in the guidelines for personnel review, the provost opened the door for faculty to present this work in their tenure and promotion cases and for personnel committees to evaluate and reward it. However, by suggesting that community-engaged scholarship receives its legitimacy through the narrow confines of academic peer review and traditional publishing, the statement makes unclear whether the review process will confer value on the full range of research products typically created through community-engaged work. When academia and the community collaborate to combine knowledge created inside and outside of the academy and co-produce new knowledge that addresses social issues, an academic journal may not be the most effective means of disseminating this new knowledge.

An Ongoing Conversation

The provost's new guidelines and the full report of the working group are now part of an ongoing conversation about how UMass Boston addresses the challenges of creating academic cultures that support community-engaged scholarship. Further progress in advancing these cultures at our institution will likely depend on progress in valuing community-engaged scholarship in the broader academic world. Campuses like ours—those that have been in existence for a short time (in our case, only fifty years) and want to establish themselves as prestigious institutions—face a dilemma. Do they try to improve their status by conforming to traditional norms conferring prestige on research institutions, which unfortunately do not always hold community-engaged scholarship in high regard? Or do they place themselves on the cutting edge of academic innovation and thereby risk being devalued by the broader academic establishment? The future of community-engaged scholarship may depend on an increasing number of universities choosing the latter option.

References

Hurtado, Sylvia, Kevin Eagan, John H. Pryor, Hannah Whang, and Serge Tran. 2012. Undergraduate Teaching Faculty: The 2010–2011 HERI Faculty Survey. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, University of California–Los Angeles.

Kuh, George, and Ken O'Donnell. 2013. Ensuring Quality and Taking High-Impact Practices to Scale. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Langley, Winston. 2014. "Guidelines for Major Faculty Personnel Reviews." Memorandum for deans, associate deans, and chairs, August 13. http://cdn.umb.edu/images/provost/Guidelines_for_Major_Faculty_Personnel_Reviews.pdf.

Tierney, William G., and Jason F. Perkins. Forthcoming. "Beyond the Ivory Tower: Academic Work in the 21st Century." In Faculty Work and the Public Good, edited by Genevieve Shaker. New York: Teachers College Press.

Warren, Mark, John Saltmarsh, Patricia Krueger-Henney, Lorna Rivera, Miren Uriarte, Donna Haig Friedman, Richard K. Fleming, Diana Yadira Salas, and Luciano Ramos. 2014. Advancing Community Engaged Scholarship and Community Engagement at the University of Massachusetts Boston: A Report of the Working Group for an Urban Research-Based Action Initiative. Boston: University of Massachusetts Boston. http://cdn.umb.edu/images/research/Report_on_Community_Engaged_Scholarship.pdf.


John Saltmarsh is a professor of higher education administration and director of the New England Resource Center for Higher Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston; Mark R. Warren is an associate professor of public policy and public affairs at the University of Massachusetts Boston; Patricia Krueger-Henney is an assistant professor in the Leadership in Urban Schools Doctoral Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston; Lorna Rivera is an associate professor of women's studies and director of the Latino Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston; Richard K. Fleming is an associate professor of exercise and health sciences and graduate program director in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Boston; Donna Haig Friedman is the director of the Center for Social Policy and research associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston; Miren Uriarte is a professor of human services and senior research associate at the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Previous Issues