Should Junior Scholars Write for the Public?


Sarah Bond of the University of Iowa History Department and Kevin Gannon (aka “The Tattooed Prof”) of the Grandview University History Department help junior faculty decide if they should write for public audiences.  I am glad to see the reference here to former Messiah College student Ernie Boyer.  Here is a taste:

recent advice column in The Chronicle — “Which Publications Matter at Which Stages of Your Career?” — argued that junior colleagues are devoting too much time to op-eds, blog posts, and other types of “less than impressive” public writing not published in top-tier academic journals or written in service to monographs or grant proposals. Instead, it said, they should “be calculating” about which publications will actually lead to tenure, and which won’t, and focus more on the former.

That advice certainly applies to faculty at major research universities or elite liberal-arts colleges (like the one where its author teaches). Trouble is: Most faculty positions aren’t within that small (and getting smaller) slice of academe. Compared with those lavishly resourced institutions, the rest of higher education evaluates faculty publications through a fundamentally different set of lenses.

Lower-tier liberal-arts colleges, teaching-oriented universities, and community colleges — where the vast majority of academic jobs are found — have long championed the need for their faculty to pursue public outreach together with effective teaching. So telling graduate students to eschew public-facing writing and outreach in favor of “impressive” or “legitimate” publications is the wrong advice for the many job candidates who will end up employed outside of the select circle of wealthy institutions.

In fact, even some departments at R1 universities are starting to use public writing and outreach in tenure cases, as an indicator of a scholar’s impact. We believe that the very survival of academe is, in part, predicated on encouraging both graduate students and junior scholars to engage in activities that speak to and for the public.

The Boyer model. Many liberal-arts colleges use the Boyer model of scholarship, or something very close to it, as the evaluative criteria for faculty publishing. The Boyer model — in its framing of four types of scholarly domains such as the “scholarship of teaching and learning” and the “scholarship of application” — speaks most directly to the missions and interests of these types of institutions. They emphasize engagement and service, and their faculty are expected to perform — and are rewarded for — scholarly work that fits within that mission. Some departments at these colleges might remain exclusively wedded to the traditional “scholarship of discovery” (Boyer’s term), above all else, but they are outliers swimming against a more powerful institutional tide.

Read the entire piece here.  I find myself solidly in the Bond-Gannon camp here.  And as long as we are writing about Kevin Gannon, check out our conversation on teaching history on Episode 26 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.