Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University

Julie Ellison, professor of American Culture, English, and Art and Design at the University of Michigan and  director emerita of IA, and Timothy K. Eatman, assistant professor of Higher Education at Syracuse University and director of research for IA, offer an approach to tenure that knits together the career of the publicly engaged humanist or artist, the cultures of department and campus, and the realities of community partnerships.

IA’s Tenure Team Initiative on Public Scholarship (TTI) was inspired by faculty members who want to do public scholarship and live to tell the tale. Publicly engaged academic work is taking hold in American colleges and universities, part of a larger trend toward civic professionalism in many spheres. But tenure and promotion policies lag behind public scholarly and creative work and discourage faculty from doing it. Disturbingly, the authors’ interviews revealed a strong sense that pursuing academic public engagement is viewed as an unorthodox and risky early career option for faculty of color.

Ellison and Eatman propose concrete ways to remove obstacles to academic work carried out for and/or with the public by giving such work full standing as scholarship, research, or artistic creation. While they recommend a number of ways to alter the wording and intent of tenure and promotion policies, changing the rules is not enough. Enlarging the conception of who counts as “peer” and what counts as “publication” is part of something bigger: the democratization of knowledge on and off campus. This report aims to serve as a toolkit for faculty, staff, and students who are eager to change the culture surrounding promotion and tenure. It offers strategies that they can use to create enabling settings for doing and reviewing intellectually rigorous public work.