Dismantling the Ivory Tower: Academic Development Day Considers Public Scholarship and Pedagogies
April 28, 2010
Critics of higher education characterize academia as an ivory tower, removed from and unmoved by the world off campus.
Of course, that's not accurate, neither historically nor now, particularly amidst growing national conversation about public scholarship and practice across the disciplines. This, in fact, was the topic tackled by faculty attendees at the College's 2010 Academic Development Day, held on Wednesday, April 21, at the Martin Institute.
Titled "Public Scholarship/Public Pedagogies" and organized by the Office of Community-Based Learning under the auspices of the Center for Teaching and Learning, the event brought together more than 100 Stonehill faculty members for a morning of sessions considering questions such as:
- What impact does public scholarship and teaching have on the community and on the academy?
- How can faculty members gear work to more popular audiences without sacrificing rigor or professionalism?
- And how can institutions improve recognition and rewards for such commitments to public scholarship and teaching?
Definitions, Rewards, and Social Change
The morning began with "Public Pedagogy and Public Scholarship: Definitions, Rewards, and Social Change," a panel consisting of Cathy Burack, senior fellow for higher education at the Center for Youth and Communities at Brandeis University and author of Just Good Business: Community Development within Higher Education; Timothy Eatman, assistant professor of higher education at Syracuse University and author of Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation in the Engaged University, A Resource on Promotion and Tenure in the Arts, Humanities, and Design; and Bob Zellner, renowned Civil Rights veteran and author of the award-winning memoir, The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement.
Burack started the discussion by defining community engagement as the "application of institutional resources to address and solve challenges facing communities through collaboration with those communities."
Noting that community engagement is synonymous with public scholarship and civic engagement, she went on to outline a comprehensive list of such activities - everything from economic development and cultural programs to faculty outreach and student community service. While she pointed to all of these activities as positive endeavors, she explained that "there's a misconception on the part of faculty that engagement is scholarship."
Community engagement can certainly be part of scholarship; however, the onus is on individual faculty members to connect the two by developing a meaningful scholarly product from such projects.
This of course "presents challenges to the institution in terms of promotion and tenure, faculty review and a general murkiness about the criteria for ‘service,' whether it's internal to the college or external to the community," she explained. For its part, "the academy needs an expanded definition of what scholarship is, particularly in its acceptance of alternative scholarly products."
Eatman, who also serves as director for research at the organization, Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, expanded upon that theme. A rewards-based system like tenure, he explained, is a double-edged sword. "What was designed to free us has enslaved us," he said.
Eatman encouraged faculty and institutions to "develop a notion of scholarship as a continuum, one that considers alternate professional pathways" like community-based scholarship. To do that, he noted, "colleges and universities need to broaden tenure and promotion review committees" by compiling information and resources that will help such groups understand and evaluate the impact of community-based scholarship.
"We must change institutional culture to one that values public scholarship in cultural disciplines," he said, explaining that he helped develop a public-scholarship friendly faculty policy at Syracuse University. "That effort came down to involving senior scholars who were committed to socially generated dimensions of knowledge production," he said.
Zellner, the final panelist, shared stories from his 50 years in the front row of the Civil Rights movement, what he called "the activism side of scholarship life."
In Zellner's work, which has included stints as a professor of history and activism at Tulane University and Long Island University, he spoke of his "lifelong quest to teach from the heart," imbuing his subject matter with personal passion. "Your community involvement is important to your scholarship," he insisted, noting that "today's students are demanding these kinds of experiences."
Activism and Scholarship
Zellner roundly rejected the notion that scholars must have objective distance from their research, quoting the advice given to him by Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks: "If you see something wrong," she told Zellner, then a college senior, "you're eventually going to have to do something about it. You can't just study it."
All three panelists praised Stonehill for the College's commitment to public scholarship and engagement with the broader community, as well as for building an institutional structure that made time for faculty members from different disciplines to come together to reflect on teaching and learning.
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