Friday, November 26, 2010

Ernest Boyer and Scholarship Reconsidered

Belatedly, considering what happened to me last year in my department (See"So Much for My Dream of the Professoriate), I am reading Ernest L. Boyer's 1990 monograph from the Carnegie Foundation, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. In his preface, he writes, "What's really being called into question is the reward system and the key issue is this: what activities of the professoriate are most highly prized? After all, it's futile to talk about improving the quality of teaching if, in the end, faculty are not given recognition for the time they spend with students."

He continues, "...following the Second World War, the faculty reward system narrowed at the very time the mission of American higher education was expanding, and we consider how many of the nation's colleges and universities are caught in the crossfire of these competing goals."

"In the current climate," he asserts, "students all too often are the losers...The reality is that, on far too many campuses, teaching is not well rewarded, and faculty who spend too much time counseling and advising students may diminish their prospects for tenure and promotion."

Boyer's thoughts. supported by a large Carnegie Foundation-sponsored "National Survey of Faculty" led to what's often referred to as "The Boyer Model" for the work of the professoriate -- four "separate, yet overlapping functions." They were "the scholarshp of discovery," "the scholarship of integration," "the scholarship of application," and "the scholarship of teaching."
"What we urgently need today," he wrote, "is a more inclusive view of what it means to be a scholar -- a recognition that knowledge is acquired through research, through synthesis, through practice, and through teaching." And he called for all four of these to be equally acknowledged in promotion and tenure-granting decisions.

That was 20 years ago. If anything, it seems to me, things have gotten worse since then. In a 2006 essay in the Chronicle Review, Stanley Katz wrote:

The new environment for higher education has created a situation in which professorial worlds are multiple, complex, and conflicting. I think I am not simply being nostalgic (though I "grew up" professionally at the end of the earlier world) when I assert that we have lost something along the way. We have lost a sense of commonality as professors, the sense that we are all in this together — "this" being a dedication to undergraduate teaching and not just specialized research.

Considering all this, at least I feel less alone in the diminishment of my real value in the professoriate, which while I was denied access to the tenured ranks, has become clearer to me. Even though things have continued tightening up, especially in resistant and hide-bound departments that keep hanging on to old ways, it is heartening to sense some pressure toward a more reasonable and responsive change in higher ed. If we don't find a way to open up to a wider view of the professoriate, we may find ourselves consigned to irrelevancy, with serious consequences for our funding, for our ongoing public support, and most of all, for our students.


The Cat Bastet said...

Some days I need to remind myself that J. R. R. Tolkien was also a lecturer without a Ph.D. I know I'm not nearly as brilliant as he, but it still inspires me.

Macy Swain said...

That's a good reminder, Cat. I'm blown away day after day by the quantity and quality of good teaching happening among our non-tenured ranks. And that's where the innovations are flowering, too -- as you know, the tenure process tends to delay, if not quash, taking chances.

UM-Flint, Associate Professor Department of History said...

The Boyer date, 1990, is stunning. We know that in some fields Boyer's recommendations have been taken to heart. But in the liberal arts where I am, the narrowness of the reward system remains. Some academics have become even more entrenched---perhaps beset and confused by the change around them, changes in teaching, in learning research, and everywhere, technology. Others, mostly younger, are combining effective teaching and research but are terrified that they will not achieve tenure.

Macy Swain said...

Thanks so much, History Professor, for your comment. I agree there is, as you note, a lot of resistance to change based on fear and to some extent, a sense of being pushed from all directions. I hope that the experience of the brave and pioneering will help disseminate some discoveries that the Boyer model comes with its own rewards. In other words, to get the momentum going again in the liberal arts, people may need to experience the implicit rewards. Learning how to be an effective teacher/scholar is immensely energizing. I want to say that while some applications of the Boyer model and related approaches require structural support, fuming and waiting for institutional recognition or structural change is immature. I say we build a new tradition from our own efforts. One by one, and in cadres of kindred spirits, we begin to form a critical mass. Tenured teachers, those best equipped institutionally to further structural change, need to support talented and promising pre-tenured and non-tenure-track faculty. We can't afford to squander the energy and impulse toward innovation the younger generation of faculty offer.