For decades, American colleges and universities have rewarded faculty members with promotion and tenure based upon their professorial performance in the areas of classroom teaching, traditional research activities and public service.
An innovative reward system adopted this fall at Western Carolina University adds an additional element designed to move faculty promotion and tenure decisions from beneath the shadow of the ivory tower of academia and into the “real world.”
Western’s new tenure, promotion and reappointment policies, approved in September by the president of the University of North Carolina system, will make it possible to reward faculty members who apply their scholarly activities to help solve problems that face the larger community beyond the boundaries of campus.
“We are very pleased that Western is taking this bold step with its faculty to adopt a reward system that recognizes the faculty’s scholarly contributions in this way,” said Harold Martin, UNC senior vice president for academic affairs. “Western becomes one of the first mid-size or larger institutions in the nation – and the first UNC campus – that has adopted such policies in recognition that institutions of higher education have an increasing role to play in economic and social development.”
For example, psychology professors at WCU are working with local school children on a behavioral science-based program designed to help combat an epidemic of childhood obesity. Faculty from the Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology are assisting a Jackson County orthopedic surgeon develop an in-home rehabilitation device for patients who have had total knee replacement surgery. Business professors are guiding students in projects to assist the town of Canton in recovering from two floods in 2004 and to create a model for other towns to follow in times of disaster. Biologists and geoscientists are collaborating with faculty from Cherokee studies to restore the region’s once plentiful rivercane, an important cultural resource to the Cherokee people.
The new reward structure is based upon the “Boyer Model of Scholarship,” a system named for Ernest Boyer, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Boyer argued that contemporary universities should broaden their idea of research to embrace multiple forms of scholarship in order to take advantage of the full range of faculty talent.
Western is most interested in promoting “the scholarship of application” because it fits with the university’s vision of becoming an engaged university, said WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo.
“The scholarship of application is not merely service to the community,” said Bardo. “Instead, it is a rigorously designed project of scholarship or research that is intended to answer critical questions in the surrounding community. It requires faculty members to engage with the broader community, to understand the community’s needs, and to gain sufficient knowledge of the situation so that they are able to design and execute research to address those specific needs.”
The problem is that the traditional organizational structure in place at most American colleges and universities, which can be traced to the Industrial Revolution, is ill-suited for higher education in the 21st century, Bardo said. “With globalization, internationalization, regionalization and the shift to a knowledge-based economy, today we face a revolution every bit as far ranging as the Industrial Revolution. As a result, universities are being asked more and more to respond directly to the needs of the people they serve,” he said. “Unfortunately, the old reward systems of universities do not tend to support university faculty who do so. The system adopted at Western will reward faculty members for their work with the surrounding region.”
Prior to approval by the UNC system, Western’s new tenure, promotion and reappointment policy was endorsed by the WCU Faculty Senate and by the university board of trustees.
“The new reward system reflects a lot of hard work on the part of our faculty and the Faculty Senate,” Provost Kyle Carter said. “I am proud of our faculty for their willingness to take this critical step to ensure that the university reaches out to the people of the region and for their enthusiasm in creating a truly engaged university.”