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Engaged Scholarship – A Welcome Message for SF State Faculty
Gerald Eisman, Ph.D., ICCE Director
In 1990, Ernest L. Boyer, then president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, published Scholarship Reconsidered, a seminal work on the state of American higher education and its recognition and reward system for faculty scholarship. In it, Boyer called upon the professoriate to recognize that in each of the multiple dimensions of faculty work there was true scholarship and that one area (such as pure research) should not be presumed as superior to others. Boyer divided scholarship into four categories: discovery, application, integration, and teaching, and purposefully named each as scholarship (scholarship of discovery, scholarship of teaching, etc.). The genius in this taxonomy is the leveling of all four areas.
But Boyer did more, he identified the "scholarship of engagement" as a separate category that crosses each of the other four, and in a later work (Journal of Public Outreach, 1996) he elaborated on its meaning. The basis for engaged scholarship is that it is focused on addressing community-defined needs. Whereas the academy tends to support the notion that knowledge is universal (and the more universal the better), community-based scholarship is frequently focused on the specific needs, environment, constraints, and purposes of a given community. It may thus differ from more traditional forms in several important ways. It is local in respect to space (a particularly community) and time, (an issue that is current), and method (that depends on local resources and opportunities). In addition, because engaged scholarship is often concerned with issues defined by the community itself, it can be considered ordinary, not in the derogatory sense of being uninteresting, but rather as being a customary occurrence in a community in need. Finally, the product of engaged scholarship is often intended, both in action and expression, for an audience outside the world of academe.
At the Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, our mission is to promote engaged scholarship that makes a real difference in the lives of the communities we serve. At first glance that may seem like a pedestrian endeavor, promoting scholarship that is locally focused on contemporary problems that are ordinary and producing reports developed for a target audience of community partners. Quite to the contrary—this is the most exciting, meaningful, and cutting edge work that I have ever encountered. What we do is to combine the knowledge processes of a great urban university with the knowledge assets of our constituent communities to bring about positive social change. The work is fraught with challenges equal in complexity to anything occurring in more traditional forms of research, inspired by innovations of tremendous creativity, and resulting in knowledge that is profound and often life altering for scholar and community alike.
Best of all, new approaches are gaining acceptance in an ever widening arena placing engaged scholarship on the forefront of academic discovery, integration, and application. Can anyone doubt the power of community service learning in making a difference to the growth of our students, or community-based participatory research in discovering effective practices in addressing health disparities, or social entrepreneurship in changing the way businesses provide for the common good?
All of these methods and more are within the purview of the Institute. If you have some idea along these lines that you would like to explore, we would love to hear from you.