The Scholarly Teacher

Scott G. McNall
As a new assistant professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, I wanted to do well, and most of all I wanted to get tenure. So, shortly after I arrived to begin the new academic year, I scheduled an appointment with my department chair to review with him my job expectations. My chair was a distinguished and somewhat crusty older member of the sociological profession and was known for speaking his mind. My question to him was simple. "How can I succeed?" His answer was short and memorable. "I don't care what you do with your time but I expect you to keep the students out of my office, and I expect you to publish." I did both, and I got tenure. My chair was clearly dumbfounded and annoyed by my question. Everybody in the university should know precisely what to do to get promoted and tenured—keep the students happy and publish! One could say with some confidence that my chair's perceptions of scholarship and the retention, tenure, and promotion system (RTP) were nicely meshed.

It is a matter of some consequence whether or not an institution's perceptions of scholarship are reflected in the RTP process, and whether or not people involved in the RTP process share a clear understanding of what constitutes scholarship. The idea that scholarship is research and that the purpose of a university is to generate new knowledge is an old and honorable one, but it is not an idea that captures the most common work that goes on in a modern university—learning and teaching.

In the late 1980s, significant questions were raised about the purpose of a university, the meaning of scholarship, and whether or not people were being rewarded for what they were actually doing. These pressures combined to bring about some important national changes.

In 1990, the influential Carnegie Foundation weighed in on the side of teaching and a redefinition of scholarship with what has come to be called "The Boyer Report," after its author Ernest Boyer. Boyer was intent on expanding the definition of scholarship to capture more of what faculty actually did, and he wanted to give teaching its due. His intention was not to whittle away the importance of traditional research, only to expand the definition of what it meant to be a scholarly teacher. The Boyer Report has provoked many responses.

One reaction to Boyer's work was that people focused on the meaning of scholarship. If it is not just research, then what is it? One definition, which has found its way into the RTP documents of several universities, is that scholarship is creative intellectual work which has been validated by disciplinary peers and is communicated in some fashion (e.g., books, journals, exhibitions, electronic publications, public readings, performances, conference presentations). According to this definition, scholarship is not just a listing of the all of the activities that make up a person's job in a university: it is work that has been peer-reviewed and documented.

A second reaction to Boyer's work was to expand and interpret Boyer's definitions of scholarship. Boyer originally identified four overlapping forms of scholarship: discovery, integration, application, and teaching. Scholars in the fine and performing arts noted, appropriately, that the scholarship of creativity should to be added to the list.

A third reaction to Boyer's work was to clarify the conditions under which teaching is scholarship. Being a scholarly teacher, it was argued, does not differ, logically, from being a scholarly biologist or philosopher. It differs only in terms of its subject matter—the knowledge and understanding of student learning, teaching, classroom dynamics. A scholarly teacher, said Boyer's critics, is one who engages in creative intellectual work related to teaching processes or the subject area content, whose work is peer reviewed, and whose work is communicated to others.

The enduring importance of Boyer is that he challenged us to think about what constituted scholarship and the need to reward faculty for what the faculty actually do and for what institutions say they value. In the 1996-1997 academic year, our senate passed a resolution which required all academic units to establish clear, written standards for retention, tenure, and promotion. The standards were to be approved by the provost and used during the 1997-1998 RTP cycle. To assist departments, I sent them a template to be used in developing written criteria. Specially, I asked them to consider the expanded definition of scholarship (discovery, integration, application, teaching, and creativity) and to achieve consensus on the forms of faculty scholarship that were characteristic of the department, including, how the scholarship would be documented and how it would be communicated. This is the first time we will use these guidelines. We should reflect carefully and thoughtfully how we should apply them and, in doing so, reflect on what we have said we prize. One of the reasons for expanding a definition of scholarship at Chico State was that colleges and departments indicated they wanted to better capture in RTP documents and processes the kind of things people do and value. We needed to align our mission, goals, and rewards. Our mission statement says we will be known for the purposeful integration of liberal and applied learning, and affirms the importance of scholarship and public service, the exploration of the frontiers of knowledge, the integration of ideas, the connection of thought to action, and the inspiration of students. These ideas and principles are captured in our expanded definition of scholarship, where we hear the echoes of integration, application, creativity, the importance of discovery, and the value of the scholarship of teaching. We must now act on and support this expanded definition.

For some time, there has been a campuswide conversation about the primacy of learning, thinking, and teaching. Creating high quality learning environments inside and outside of the classroom has been identified as the university's most important priority. It has been useful and instructive to have this discussion, and it will continue. We have not focused as dramatically on other things we honor and that are of equal importance. Scholarship, more broadly defined, needs our lasting support. In recognition of this, significant new resources were channeled to all academic units this year to be used to support the continued intellectual growth and scholarship of the faculty, so that whichever paths of scholarship faculty follow, they will find institutional help.

There is no doubt that scholarship (creative intellectual work) enriches the learning environment of the entire campus. People who are deeply engaged in and are excited by ideas bring those enthusiasms with them to the classroom. As we know from the research on student evaluations of faculty, students recognize and respond positively to knowledgeable and committed teachers. The link between student learning and faculty scholarship can take many different forms. Each form of scholarship (discovery, integration, application, teaching, creativity) offers different opportunities to engage students in crafting and taking proper responsibility for their own learning. For the scholarly teacher who focuses on application, there is an opportunity to engage students and help them learn by showing them how a theoretical idea can lead to the development of new materials, technologies, and inventions. Those scholarly teachers whose work falls into the realm of artistic creativity help students to understand how new ideas and insights are created and communicated, how the boundaries of what is known are expanded. Learning, thinking, teaching and scholarship are intertwined in a community of scholarly teachers, committed to student learning within and outside of the classroom. The scholarly teacher is one who helps students succeed by maintaining an agenda of intellectual creativity, sharing ideas with colleagues, and communicating these ideas beyond the borders of the campus.

Scott G. McNall


Achievements| Announcements| Calendar| Exhibitions| Provost's Corner| Other Stories|
Credits| Archives| Front Page| Publications Home Page