In 1990, Ernest L. Boyer, then president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, published Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, a seminal work on the state of American higher education and its recognition and reward system for faculty scholarship. In it, Boyer calls upon the professoriate to recognize that each dimension of faculty work harnesses true scholarship and that one area (such as teaching) is not superior to the other areas. Boyer divides scholarship into four categories: discovery, application, integration, and teaching -purposefully labeling each as their own scholarship. The genius in this taxonomy is the equal leveling of all four areas.
Boyer further identified the "scholarship of engagement" as a separate category that crosses each of the other four. Later in the Journal of Public Service and Outreach (1996), Boyer elaborates on its meaning. The basis for engagement scholarship is that it focuses on addressing community-defined needs. Whereas academia tends to support the notion that knowledge is universal (and the more universal the better), engagement scholarship frequently focuses on the specific needs, environment, constraints, and purposes of a given community. It is local in respect to space (a particularl community), time (an issue that is current), and method (which depends on local resources and opportunities). Because engagement 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 a customary occurrence in a community in need. The product of engaged scholarship is often intended, both in action and expression, for an audience outside the world of academia.
At SF State's 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, this 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 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.