Located near the great Smoky Mountains National Park, Western Carolina University (WCU) in Cullowhee, North Carolina, is a regional comprehensive institution of nearly 11,000 students that is part of the University of North Carolina system. A decade ago, during the 2006-2007 academic year, our faculty senate debated and subsequently approved a major change to our promotion and tenure processes by adopting the Boyer model of scholarship. Codified by Ernest Boyer in 1990, his paradigm sought to view scholarship more broadly and move beyond the confines of equating scholarship with peer-reviewed publication. Originally written for WCU’s Faculty Forum newsletter, the original version of the following essay sought to inspire our faculty to look back on our adoption of the model a decade ago.
Our institution did more than reconsider its promotion and tenure policies within the confines of the campus itself; rather, it sought and subsequently garnered national attention for its work. In October 2007 Inside Higher Ed published an article entitled “Scholarship Reconsidered as Tenure Policy.” Scott Jaschik wrote of the breaking news, “Western Carolina University . . . has adopted Boyer’s definitions for scholarship to replace traditional measures of research. . . . Broader definitions of scholarship will be used in hiring decisions, merit reviews, and tenure consideration.” Ten years after adopting the Boyer model, many at Western Carolina are now reflecting upon its impact on promotion and tenure on our campus.
Efforts to introduce new tenure policies in the WCU Faculty Handbook began in the spring of 2005 and unfolded as the institution was looking to its upcoming reaffirmation of accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges) SACSCOC and designing its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). A first draft of section 4.00 of the Handbook (Employment Policies, Terms and Procedures) was sent to the Faculty Senate in April 2006. Its statement on scholarship, truncated below, was not ultimately adopted but was clearly influenced by Boyer’s ideas:
Scholarship includes the creation and synthesis of knowledge; the creation of new approaches to understanding and explaining phenomena; the development of new insights; the critical appraisal of the past; artistic creation, performance, and contributions; and the application of knowledge and expertise to address needs in society and in the profession. . . . Applied scholarship should not be confused with service . . . . Applied scholarship is serious, demanding work. . . . Therefore, it must be disseminated in a medium that can be evaluated by others. . . . Since the nature of scholarship differs by discipline (e.g., some publish books, others journal articles, and others produce sculptures), departments are responsible for defining the quality, quantity and mix of scholarly expression.
Six months before it became university policy with the Faculty Senate vote on October 25, 2006, WCU had already crafted a statement that included concepts from the model but didn’t mention Boyer’s name, thereby averting a wholesale incorporation with the associated complications explored in this essay.
Although it is often presented as such, Ernest Boyer did not primarily seek to broaden the definition of scholarship: he himself consistently said that he endeavored to broaden its meaning and scope by “reconsidering” it. If this observation seems overly semantic, it’s because any discussion of Boyer quickly focuses on words. Read his original descriptions of Discovery, Integration, Application, and Teaching. Discovery, or the Scholarship of Scholarship, is self-evident and articles published about the model demonstrate that the majority of faculty list their work under this heading. The explanation of Integration suggests that Interdisciplinary Synthesis is a more accurate descriptor—although codifying an original piece of Interdisciplinary Synthesis would be Discovery. Boyer’s Scholarship of Teaching was a straightforward call for scholarly teaching and bears little resemblance to what it later became in the form of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Because the process of Application (Engagement) should, again, result in an original scholarly product, it’s unclear how distinct it is from Discovery. And while we speak of four categories, Boyer stressed that the model “divide[s] intellectual functions that are tied inseparably together” (25). It seems incongruous, then, that some of our unit-level documents codifying benchmarks for promotion and tenure state that Discovery carries more weight as scholarship when the Boyer model is an unranked set of descriptors rather than a rubric with points.
Among the most interesting documents related to WCU’s implementation is Chancellor John Bardo’s and Provost Kyle Carter’s joint letter to the campus on November 5, 2008. As we were using Boyer for the first time that year they sought to remind the faculty that, beyond questions of nomenclature, scholarship involves an initial process, a final product, and its subsequent evaluation. They wrote:
There is an important distinction between scholarly activity and scholarship. A scholarly activity is an action that has not been vetted to determine its value. . . . A faculty member writes a review on the effects of global warming (integration). When she is finished, she sets the article on her bookshelf. . . . Is this a scholarly act? Yes. Is it scholarship that will count toward promotion/tenure? No. Why? It hasn’t been evaluated by discipline experts who can attest to the validity of the methodology or its scholarliness. . . . An engineering faculty member conducts a process redesign (application) for a major corporation. . . . Is this scholarly activity? Sure. Is it scholarship that will count toward promotion and tenure? Not yet. The evaluation component is missing.
Bardo and Carter articulated the heart of the matter: a process redesign or a review—like choreography for a musical, a blog, a playground, or a bird sanctuary—can be scholarship. As faculty at an institution nationally recognized for engagement, we can all support the premise that scholarship can and should follow a rich variety of paths. No matter the Boyer category to which it is ascribed, the challenge voiced in 2008 endures: “How do we ‘determine the value’ of the final product?”
Much of Boyer’s writing contemplates the role of the academy in society and ways that scholarship could address its “disturbingly complicated problems” (81). In Scholarship Reconsidered and in some of his other writings, Boyer quoted the words of noted historian Oscar Handlin: “[S]cholarship has to prove its worth not on its own terms, but by service to the nation and the world” (23). This observation encapsulates issues that might in their totality be called “The Boyer Problem.” Boyer’s philosophy of scholarship and Boyer’s model as a method for categorizing and evaluating it are difficult to reconcile. To embrace his philosophy is to view the Academy from 30,000 feet; to craft objective assessment methods is to reinterpret his original paradigm ever more narrowly for individual disciplines. Despite Handlin’s sweeping words and Boyer’s soaring ideals, scholarship must indeed ‘prove its worth on its own terms’ or it risks being unworthy of the name.
Quantitative data is fundamental to effective assessment and to assess the Boyer model on our campus we should consider how many faculty members have successfully negotiated tenure and promotion processes in the last decade with the kind of work Boyer championed. Lee Shulman, past president of the Carnegie Foundation, envisioned such data a decade ago. In the 2007 article noted above, Shulman is quoted as saying, “What could really have an impact . . . is if a few years from now, Western Carolina can point to a cohort of newly tenured professors who won their promotions using the Boyer model.”
As tenure portfolios and deliberations are confidential, an exact number of Boyer faculty at WCU may never be known. Nonetheless, it would be a valuable exercise in the 2017-2018 academic year to distribute a survey to faculty tenured in the last decade to assess the extent to which Boyer scholarship played a role in their advancement. We could also prepare a separate survey for faculty applying for tenure and promotion this year to gather information on their use of the model. In-depth, longitudinal studies on the implementation of Boyer are almost nonexistent and such an assessment would go far in realizing Shulman’s call. Recognizing this void in the literature two years before our adoption at Western, KellyAnn O’Meara wrote in 2005: “. . . very little empirical research has been conducted to see if, in fact, any of the claims made by Boyer and other advocates have occurred” (481). Just two years ago Jossey-Bass published a 25th anniversary edition of Boyer’s book that is prefaced with five introductory essays collectively entitled “The Impact of Scholarship Reconsidered on Today’s Academy.” The authors took the first approach noted above and viewed “Today’s Academy” from 30,000 feet. They fail to identify a single institution at which Boyer’s work has had a lasting impact and, upon examining the endnotes, one finds that the essays are largely based on sources published a decade or more before the volume was being prepared in 2015.
Finally, some of the faculty at WCU have produced important scholarship based on Western’s Boyer implementation. Four articles—the most recent from August 2017—explore the ways in which definitions of scholarship and methods for outside peer review have evolved at Western over the past decade (see Cruz, et al., below). Each notes the lack of consistency across our campus with regard to how Boyer-related elements like those explored above are articulated in our unit-level promotion and tenure guidelines. The research team wrote in “Bound by Tradition?” (2012): “The experiences of Western Carolina University suggest that there is a fine balance to be struck between flexibility and consistency in implementing processes for the review of new forms and types of scholarship” (15). And they observed in “Boyer in the Middle” (2017): “Boyer’s stated intention was to provide the faculty with multiple pathways to pursue scholarly work; but in practice this has resulted in pathways within pathways within pathways, thereby complicating the increasingly less epistemological and more pragmatic concerns of efficacy, equity, and transparency.”
What are we to do at Western, then? Scrap the Boyer model? Rip a page out of the Faculty Handbook and excise paragraphs from our collegial review guidelines? I’m not proposing anything so radical. First, I encourage my colleagues to study Scholarship Reconsidered and reexamine Boyer’s original ideas—the main text is just eighty-one pages. Second, we should engage in meaningful dialogue and objective assessment. From the perspective of both the institution and individual departments, has adopting Boyer accomplished what we hoped it would ten years ago? Has it impacted numerous faculty or relatively few? Can there be consistent review of dossiers when definitions of scholarship and processes for external peer review vary across campus?
Moving beyond the Western Carolina University campus, all of us—as faculty members and as administrators—have become engrossed at one time or another in campus-wide initiatives to establish new processes, revise old ones, or to jettison antiquated procedures. It is rare, however, as an entire campus community to look back and to reassess whether the resulting action was ultimately as successful as it was first envisioned. Adopting the Boyer model as an institution was a well-intended effort to broaden the meaning of scholarship. However, in so doing we established a university-wide benchmark on a campus in which each individual unit previously had sole responsibility for setting its own criteria. Our work a decade ago raised issues of shared governance that have yet to be fully explored.
It is my hope that we will take advantage of this anniversary year to have a spirited campus-wide discussion at Western Carolina University about the Boyer model—just as we did so notably and meaningfully a decade ago. And in my own work as an administrator, I want to capitalize on this opportunity to reflect on how and why campus-wide initiatives such as this are begun, codified, and, ultimately, assessed.
Boyer, Ernest (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Cruz, L., Crow, R., Ellern, J., Ford, G., Moss, H., & White, B. J. (2017). Boyer in the middle: Second generation challenges to emerging scholarship. Innovation in Higher Education, Aug. 2017.
Cruz, L., Ellern, J., Ford, G., Moss, H., & White, B. J. (2009). Recognition and reward: SoTL and the tenure process at a regional comprehensive university. MountainRise: The International Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5(3), 1-27.
Cruz, L., Ellern, J., Ford, G., Moss, H., & White, B. J. (2012). Bound by tradition? Peer review and new scholarship: An institutional case study. Research in Higher Education Journal, 17, 70-87.
Cruz, L., Ellern, J., Ford, G., Moss, H., & White, B. J. (2013). Navigating the boundaries of the scholarship of engagement at a regional comprehensive university. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 17(1), 3-26.
Jaschik, Scott (2007) “Scholarship Reconsidered as Tenure Policy.” Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/02/wcu
O’Meara, KellyAnn. (2005). Encouraging multiple forms of scholarship in faculty reward systems: Does it make a difference? Research in Higher Education, 46(5), 479-510.