Beyond Activity, Place, and Partner: How Publicly Engaged Scholarship Varies by Intensity of Activity and Degree of Engagement

Diane M. Doberneck, Chris R. Glass, and John H. Schweitzer

Abstract

Publicly engaged scholarship is often described by activity (e.g., service-learning; community-based, participatory research; public humanities), by place (e.g., rural communities, urban neighborhood), or by partner (e.g., non-governmental organization, school). These common descriptors—based on what faculty do, where they do it, and with whom they partner—fail to characterize how faculty members collaborate with community partners in engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service. This study explored whether two process-oriented constructs—level of activity and degree of engagement—were useful descriptors of how faculty members go about their scholarly collaborations with the public. Interpretive content analysis of 173 promotion and tenure forms revealed significant differences in intensity of activity and degree of engagement by gender, race, age, teaching assignment, joint departmental appointment, appointment length, Extension appointment, and discipline. These variations suggested new directions in professional development for community engagement and appointments/assignments supportive of faculty involvement in publicly engaged scholarship.

Introduction

In response to public criticism concerning their contributions to the greater good of society, some institutional leaders and faculty at American research universities have led organizational change initiatives to make publicly engaged scholarship a central tenet of their institutional missions (Boyte, 2005; Kezar, Chambers, & Burkhardt, 2005; Matthews, 2006). Many leaders recognized the need for systemic change to sustain engaged scholarship on their campuses and have advocated for various reforms in institutional policy and practice (e.g., revised strategic plans, vision and mission statements, revised promotion and tenure policies, and new incentive and rewards programs) to integrate engagement on their campus (Checkoway, 2001; Ehrlich, 2000).

Consequently, publicly engaged scholarship has moved from the margins to the mainstream at many higher education institutions, with 115 campuses designated with the Carnegie Community Engagement Elective Classification in 2010 (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 2010; Driscoll & Sandmann, 2001). Some leaders in the engagement movement, however, are concerned that many of these institutional change efforts represent shifts in rhetoric only and not in the ways in which faculty collaborate with community members, diluting the ideal of reciprocal, mutually beneficial partnerships with communities. Specifically, they charge that lack of focus on the process dimensions of engagement may “leave some campuses and their leaders with the impression that they are ‘doing engagement,’ when in fact they are not” (American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2002, p. 8).

While early institutional change efforts focused on organizational structures, policies, and practices, more contemporary ones emphasize the significantly different types of relationships faculty have with their community partners and advocate for crisper distinctions between types of faculty-community relationships (Saltmarsh, Hartley, & Clayton, 2009). However, beyond calls for a greater focus on understanding the process dimensions of community engagement, very little research has been conducted to differentiate ways in which faculty collaborate with their community partners empirically.

Research Purpose and Questions

The goal of this research was to contribute to the limited but growing research about publicly engaged scholarship, which includes research about levels (Colbeck & Wharton-Michael, 2006), integration (Bloomgarden & O’Meara, 2007; Colbeck & Weaver, 2008), pervasiveness (Colbeck & Weaver, 2008), and types (Doberneck, Glass, & Schweitzer, 2010; Glass, Doberneck, & Schweitzer, 2011). Specifically, this study was designed to explore whether two process-oriented constructs—intensity of activity and degree of engagement—were useful for characterizing differences in how faculty members collaborate with community partners in engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service (Glass & Fitzgerald, 2010). A second research goal was to determine whether analysis using these two process-oriented constructs would reveal significant demographic (gender, race, age, number of years at institution), appointment (assignments, joint college, joint departmental, Extension), or disciplinary differences in how faculty members approach their publicly engaged scholarship. The following research questions framed this study:

1. Are faculty demographic characteristics related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

2. Are faculty appointment variables related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

3. Is the faculty member’s area of study related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

To be clear, we are not advocating that higher levels of intensity of activity or degrees of engagement are “better” than lower levels; our goal, instead, is to reveal the range of ways faculty members collaborate with the public, based on empirical evidence, and to examine whether there are demographic, appointment, or disciplinary patterns related to how faculty approach their scholarly collaborations with the public.

Conceptual Framework and Definitions 

For this study, we modified Colbeck & Wharton-Michael’s (2006) framework, “Individual and Organizational Influences on Faculty Member’s Motivation and Engagement in Public Scholarship,” and linked individual characteristics, academic characteristics, and areas of scholarship to intensity of activity and degree of engagement (see Figure 1).

We used Michigan State University’s definition of publicly engaged scholarship, which states that engagement “is a scholarly endeavor that cross-cuts instruction, research and creative activities, and service; fulfills unit and university missions; and is focused on collaboration with and benefits to communities external to the university” (Provost’s Committee on University Outreach, 1993). Because we wanted to move beyond descriptions of activity, place, and partner, we developed two process-oriented constructs to characterize the differences in how faculty members approached their scholarly collaborations with the public.

Intensity of activity was comprised of the frequency, duration, and complexity of faculty members’ interactions with community partners and was influenced by Enos & Morton’s (2003) framework for development of campus-community partnerships. Intensity of activity included types of engagement activities, number of different types of engagement activities, frequency and duration of the engagement activities, scholarly output related to the activities, and awards/recognitions received for publicly engaged scholarship.

Degree of engagement characterized the extent to which faculty members collaborated with their community partners in reciprocal, mutually beneficial ways, and was influenced by The Research University Civic Engagement Network’s degree of  collaborative processes in engaged research (Stanton, 2008), Imagining America’s continuum of scholarship (Ellison & Eatman, 2008), and distinctions between transactional and transformational partnerships (Saltmarsh, Hartley, & Clayton, 2009). Degree of engagement focused on depth of collaboration and included the direction or flow of information or knowledge; locus of control in decision making; extent of collaboration at different stages of the engagement process; and recognized sources of new knowledge or understanding associated with publicly engaged scholarship.

External audiences (often called the community or the public) were broadly defined in this study to include more than geographically bound communities (e.g., neighborhoods, cities, or regions defined by physical place). We also included communities of identity, affiliation or interest, circumstance, faith, kin, and profession or practice (Fraser, 2005; Ife, 2002; Marsh, 1999; Mattessich, Monsey, & Roy, 1999). Private consulting and individual volunteerism were excluded from the study because they fulfill individual goals, not unit or university missions. Faculty contributions to university, college, or departmental committees and to scholarly and professional associations were also excluded because those activities do not contribute directly to the public, but instead address campus or disciplinary needs or goals.

Research Design and Methods 

For this exploratory study, we conducted an interpretive content analysis of the faculty members’ portions of promotion and tenure forms, rich descriptions of faculty members’ scholarly activities in instruction, research and creative activities, and service. Interpretive content analysis was selected because it is particularly well-suited for determining the presence of identified concepts in large amounts of unstructured text and because it is a context-sensitive analytic technique, responsive enough to differentiate between nuanced meanings inherent in faculty descriptions of their scholarly activities (Krippendorff, 2004). For example, using interpretive content analysis, we were able to differentiate between how plant biologists and urban planners use the word “community” in descriptions of their scholarship.

Research Site and Participants 

Because this was an exploratory study, we purposefully limited data collection to one site (Creswell, 1998; Patton, 2001). Michigan State University was selected because it is a research-intensive, land-grant, Carnegie-engaged institution, where faculty members are expected to achieve scholarly excellence across all three traditional academic missions—research and creative activities, teaching, and service—and to pursue these activities in service to the public good. Michigan State University also revised its promotion and tenure forms in 2001 to encourage faculty members to report their publicly engaged scholarship. As such, institutional data about faculty members’ scholarly activities were reasonably expected to provide the rich, detailed examples required to determine whether the two process-oriented constructs—intensity of activity and degree of engagement—would reveal differences in how faculty members approach their scholarly collaborations with the public.

Researchers accessed promotion and tenure documents written by tenure line faculty who underwent tenure and promotion reviews between 2002 and 2006. Due to the unavailability of institutional data, the study did not include tenure line faculty who were unsuccessful in promotion and tenure review; were no longer employed at the university; and/ or no longer held tenure track appointments at the university. During the study period, 374 tenure-line faculty members met our eligibility criteria and were contacted by mail for their informed consent. Of the eligible faculty members, 46% (n=173) consented to have their promotion and tenure documents included in this institutional review board approved study.

The 173 participants included 69% male, 31% female, 80% White, 5% Black, 10% Asian/Pacific Islander, 2% Hispanic, and 3% American Indian/ Alaska Native. Participant ranks included 54% assistant professor and 37% associate professor. Participants held primary appointments in the following colleges: 27% agriculture and natural resources; 19% natural science; 14% social science; 12% arts and letters, including music; 6% education; 4% business; 4% engineering; 4% human medicine; 4% osteopathic medicine; 4% veterinary medicine; 2% communication arts and sciences; 2% nursing; and 1% other primary tenure home.

Using chi-square analysis, researchers determined that faculty members included in this study were not significantly different (by gender, ethnicity, primary college, and rank) from the full-time, tenure line faculty at Michigan State University during the 2002–2006 study period.

Sources of Data 

Researchers accessed the study data from two sources centrally collected and organized by the institution’s Office of Academic Human Resources: a university administrators’ database and promotion and tenure forms completed by faculty members. Data from the university administrators’ database included demographic information such as gender, race, and date of birth. Data from the promotion and tenure forms included: data about the faculty member’s appointment [college(s), department(s), and/or Extension]; assignment (percentage of time assigned to instruction, research and creative activities, service to the university, and/or service to the community); and descriptions of scholarship written by faculty on their promotion and tenure forms. Researchers also accessed and coded faculty members’ curriculum vitae and the personal or reflective statements that are part of their promotion and tenure dossiers.

Data Coding and Analysis 

Researchers assigned two different holistic scores— one for intensity of activity and one for degree of engagement—to characterize faculty members’ publicly engaged scholarship. Because this was an exploratory study, holistic scoring was used to describe each faculty member’s engaged scholarship in its entirety (instead of scoring specific instances of publicly engaged scholarship and aggregating the scores into an overall score). Researchers used the four-point coding scheme (none, low, medium, and high) developed by Colbeck and Wharton-Michael (2006) to characterize levels of faculty engagement. For intensity of activity, researchers coded a 0 for absolutely no publicly engaged scholarship reported by faculty; 1 for faculty whose publicly engaged scholarship could be characterized by mostly ad-hoc, short-term activities with no scholarly publications or awards associated with it; 2 for faculty whose work was characterized by a mixture of shorter and deeper intensity publicly engaged scholarship; and 3 for faculty whose work was characterized by multiple types; ongoing, regular relationships; or partnerships with community members which resulted in generation of scholarly publications and/or awards and recognitions.

For degree of engagement, researchers coded a 0 for absolutely no publicly engaged scholarship reported by faculty; 1 for faculty whose work was characterized as mostly unidirectional transfers of expert knowledge from university to community recipients; 2 for faculty whose work was characterized as a mixture of unidirectional and collaboratively, co-created activities; and 3 for faculty whose work was characterized as predominantly reciprocal, mutually determined flows of knowledge and resulting co-generated scholarship.

We coded the data by hand to ensure faculty members’ descriptions of their engaged scholarship were considered in their fullest context. We followed standard procedures for team-based coding, including frequent meetings to ensure coding consistency across team members, to discuss and resolve ambiguous cases, and to update coding rules and the codebook as needed (Mayring, 2000; MacQueen, McLellen, Kay, & Milstein, 1998).

Once the data were coded, we entered them into Statistical Package for Social Sciences 17.0. As is common practice in exploratory research and interpretive content analysis, we analyzed the key constructs using various statistical procedures to search for significant patterns in the data. We calculated means, standard deviations, and frequency distributions, and conducted t-tests, one-way analyses of variance, and chi-square statistics to examine differences within groups and between groups of faculty. Two-way analyses of variance were also used, when appropriate, to identify potential interactions between demographic variables. For this study, p < .05 level was considered to be the level of statistical significance; however, because this was an exploratory study, we occasionally noted patterns in the data that were interesting even if they failed to meet the threshold of statistical significance.

Results 

Q1: Are faculty demographic characteristics related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

The demographic characteristics considered in this study included gender, race, age at time of review, and number of years at the institution at time of promotion/tenure review. Because the numbers of minority faculty members were small, we grouped them into a single category—non-White faculty—for the purposes of analysis. Mean levels of intensity and degree of engagement were compared using t-tests and one-way analyses of variance. Results and levels of statistical significance are presented in Table 1.

For intensity of activity, there were no statistically significant differences in publicly engaged scholarship by gender, race, and age, though intensity did vary by number of years at the university. Greater levels of intensity were found for faculty who had been at the institution for 11 to 15 years. For degree of engagement, there were no statistically significant differences by race and by number of years at the institution. Women reported statistically significant higher degrees of engagement than their male colleagues, and faculty members in their 50s reported higher degrees of engagement than their younger colleagues.

After testing for main effects, two-way analyses of variance were conducted to look for possible interaction effects between the demographic variables. For intensity of activity, there were no statistically significant findings. For degree of engagement, the interaction between gender and race was statistically significant. Mean levels by gender and race for degree of engagement are depicted in Figure 2.

The data in Figure 2 indicate that there is very little difference in the degree of engagement between White males (mean = 1.28), non-White males (mean = 1.30), and White females (mean = 1.40). Non-White females (mean = 2.18) reported a statistically significant higher degree of engagement than the other groups.

Q2: Are faculty appointment variables related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

Faculty appointment variables in this study included rank and assignment (percentage of appointment in instruction, research and creative activities, and service; Extension appointment; patient care appointment; joint appointment; and length of appointment [academic 9 month or academic 12 month]).

Assignment 

At Michigan State, faculty members’ assignments typically consist of an assigned percentage of time in instruction, research and creative activities, service, and other categories, including Extension, international, urban affairs, and patient care. The instructional assignment is further divided into the following sub-categories: undergraduate teaching, graduate teaching, non-credit instruction, and academic advising. The service assignment is divided into three subcategories: academic (within scholarly and professional organizations); academic (within the broader university); and within the broader community.

Pearson’s correlations were conducted to determine whether assignments were related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement. Results are reported in Table 2, with a single asterisk indicating significance at p < .05 and a double asterisk indicating significance at p < .01.

The data in Table 2 revealed several statistically significant patterns related to assignment. First, there is an inverse relationship between assignment in instruction and degree of engagement. Faculty with higher percentage appointments in graduate instruction described higher degrees of engagement in their scholarship, while faculty with higher percentage appointments in undergraduate instruction described lower degrees of engagement in their scholarship. Second, faculty members’ percentage assigned to service to the university showed a negative relationship with intensity of activity. That is, faculty with higher assigned percentages to service to the university reported lower intensity of activity. As their assigned percentages of service to the university decreased, they reported higher levels of activity in publicly engaged scholarship. Faculty members’ assigned percentages to service to the profession did not vary greatly (between 4% and 6%) and were not related to faculty members’ reported intensity of activity. Finally, faculty members’ assigned percentages to service to the community showed a positive relationship with reported intensity of activity. As assigned percentage of service to community increased so did reported intensity of activity.

Joint Appointments 

In this study, the majority of faculty members (83%) held appointments in one department, with 15% appointed in two departments and 2% appointed in three departments. For the purposes of analysis, we compared faculty with a single department appointment to faculty with joint appointments. A t-test was conducted to determine whether an appointment in more than one department was related to the reported intensity of activity and degree of engagement. Faculty with joint appointments (mean = 2.39) were more likely than their colleagues with single appointments (mean = 1.94, p = 0.027) to report high intensity of activities. For degree of engagement, the analysis showed no statistically significant differences between faculty with single and joint appointments.

Length of Appointment 

Michigan State faculty hold either 9-month or 12-month appointments. T-tests were used to compare the different appointments and to determine whether length of appointment was related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement. For intensity of activity, no statistically significant differences were found. For degree of engagement, faculty members with 12-month appointments had statistically significant higher degrees of engagement than their colleagues with 9-month appointments.

This study included faculty members of two ranks—individuals going up for promotion/tenure to the associate professor level and those going up for promotion/tenure to the full professor level. T-tests were conducted to determine whether rank was related to reported intensity of activity and degree of engagement. We found that there were no statistically significant findings for intensity of activity or degree of engagement related to rank.

Q3. Is the faculty member’s area of scholarship or discipline related tow intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

For the primary college appointments, we recoded Michigan State’s 15 colleges into 8 more commonly used college groupings for the purpose of analysis. Means and standard deviations for intensity of activity and degree of engagement by primary college appointments are reported in Table 3.

The data in Table 3 indicate, for both intensity of activity and degree of engagement, that faculty members with primary appointments in education, health and medical professions, and agriculture and natural resources reported higher levels, while faculty members with primary appointments in business, arts and humanities, and physical and biological sciences reported lower levels. Faculty members with appointments in engineering and social and behavioral sciences fell somewhere in the middle. These findings are consistent with other studies that examined how area of study relates to faculty participation in publicly engaged scholarship. For example, researchers examining commitment to community service found “the weakest supporters of community service [were]…faculty trained in the physical sciences, anthropology, and English” (Antonio, Astin, & Cress, 2000, p. 384). Similarly, faculty members in physical and biological sciences, the arts and mathematics, engineering, and computer sciences reported that service-learning (one type of publicly engaged scholarship) is “not relevant to their disciplines” (Abes, Jackson, & Jones, 2002, p. 12).

In Figure 3 it is clear that the college grouping shows a positive relationship between intensity of activity and degree of engagement, with faculty in some colleges reporting both low intensities of activity and low degrees of engagement while others reported both high intensities of activity and high levels of engagement.

Delimitations and Limitations 

Because this study was exploratory, data were collected from one research site. The results are not expected to be broadly generalizable, but instead should be considered as a starting point for additional research conducted at other institutions of higher education where faculty members conduct publicly engaged scholarship.

Promotion and tenure forms as a source of data have some limitations. Faculty descriptions of their own scholarship, especially for promotion and tenure, are complex expressions, negotiated between the (sometimes competing) epistemological, institutional, and disciplinary influences and faculty members’ perspective on both the value of their own work and the perception of “what counts” at their institution at the time of review (O’Meara, 2002). Faculty members may have selectively included information on their forms, emphasizing specific aspects of their scholarship while minimizing others in order to make the strongest case going forward for review. Junior or mid-career faculty, for example, may have chosen to underreport their publicly engaged scholarship (Ellison & Eatman, 2008). As a result, data from promotion and tenure forms may differ from faculty members’ more authentic, less strategically crafted descriptions of their publicly engaged scholarship. While the “unreactive” nature of documents gives them their stability as a data source, it also limits researchers to analysis of text without further explanation from faculty members (Whitt, 2001). In other words, the written documents may tell only part of the story. Despite these limitations, promotion and tenure documents are the institutional record of faculty scholarship and served as an accessible, stable, and rich source of data for this study.

Discussion and Future Directions For Research and Practice 

At Michigan State University, faculty members from a broad range of backgrounds, appointments, and disciplines described publicly engaged scholarship in their promotion and tenure materials, thereby providing researchers with a rich source of data about how faculty members collaborate with the public in engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service. Using interpretive content analysis, we were able to characterize faculty members’ engaged scholarship by intensity of activity and degree of engagement—two process-oriented constructs different from the usual activity, place, and partner descriptions of engagement. Analyses also revealed patterns—related to demographics, appointment, and discipline—in how faculty members describe their engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service. This study’s findings suggest several future direction for research and practice.

First, while previous research has shown female faculty and faculty of color are more likely then their male and majority colleagues to be committed to and motivated by community-based teaching and research (Antonio, 2002; Antonio, Astin, & Cress, 2000), this study revealed that their engaged scholarship is also more likely to be characterized by higher levels of intensity of activity and degree of engagement. This finding is consistent with other research that confirms higher levels of publicly engaged scholarship by female faculty of color in what Turner describes as the “manifestation of interlocking race and gender” (Antonio, Astin, & Cress, 2000; Turner, 2002, p. 79). Future researchers may wish to study the interaction effects of race and gender related to publicly engaged scholarship—specifically, looking for differences across racial/ethnic groups (e.g., disaggregating ‘faculty of color’). Institutional leaders in higher education would do well to recognize this trend and ensure that institutional supports for engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service are especially supportive of women faculty of color who are more likely to be committed to the most intensive forms of publicly engaged scholarship.

Second, this study showed that faculty members’ assignments (e.g., percentages assigned to instruction, research and creative activities, and service) are related to levels of intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship. Faculty members with graduate teaching assignments described higher degrees of engagement than their colleagues with undergraduate teaching assignments. Faculty members with appointments in “service to the broader community,” even minimal percentages, described higher levels of activity than their colleagues with “service to the university” appointments. Faculty members with Extension appointments, appointments in more than one department, and 12-month appointments (versus 9-month) were also more likely to demonstrate higher levels of activity or degrees of engagement. Because very little previous research has examined assignment and its relationship to publicly engaged scholarship, we would suggest that future researchers build upon this exploratory study to examine whether trends at Michigan State are consistent across American colleges and universities. Institutional leaders responsible for leading organizational change efforts for community engagement would do well to consider how faculty assignments are made on their respective campuses and to make adjustments in faculty appointments to support their engaged faculty.

Third, this study provided additional evidence that the disciplines in which faculty are initially socialized and practice their scholarship influence how they approach their collaborative scholarship with the public. Disciplinary differences revealed by this study confirmed what other researchers have discovered; that is, faculty members in agriculture, education, and health sciences are more likely to be engaged with communities, while their colleagues in the physical sciences and arts and humanities are less likely to conduct their instruction, research and creative activities, and service in conjunction with community partners (Abes, Jackson, & Jones, 2002; Antonio, Astin, & Cress, 2000). Future research is needed to understand these disciplinary differences, to identify how the disciplines create the barriers or facilitators for faculty involvement in publicly engaged scholarship, and ultimately to understand what publicly engaged scholarship looks like across the spectrum of faculty disciplines. More thorough understandings of these differences will allow institutional leaders to support faculty success and to communicate faculty relevance to society at large. Institutional leaders charged with professional development for community engagement should consider these findings as they craft faculty development programs that provide more than a “one size fits all” approach. For example, faculty members in disciplines with lower levels of activity or degrees of engagement (e.g., business, arts and humanities, physical and biological sciences) likely need different types of incentives, connections, and support to establish more robust community collaborations than their colleagues in disciplines with higher levels of activity and degrees of engagement (e.g., education, agriculture, and health and medical professions). In addition, this study’s findings suggest that faculty members’ age and years at the institutional may also influence their levels of activity and degrees of engagement. Those charged with professional development for community engagement may also want to consider a lifespan approach to supporting engaged faculty (Ellison & Eatman, 2008).

Conclusions 

This study demonstrated that two process-oriented constructs—intensity of activity and degree of engagement—provide a way of describing publicly engaged scholarship that goes beyond activity, place, or partner descriptions. These two constructs allow faculty, researchers, and institutional leaders to make distinctions between the many ways faculty members collaborate with the public in engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service. They allow differences in type of activity, number of types of activities, frequency and duration, scholarly outputs, flow of information and knowledge, locus of control of decision-making, extent of collaboration, and sources of new knowledge and understanding to come into relief or focus in ways that descriptions based on activity, place, or partner do not allow. We hope that the two constructs, along with other process-oriented constructs yet to be developed, will strengthen our understanding of variations in faculty members’ approaches to collaborative scholarship with the public. By making distinctions about the process dimensions of publicly engaged scholarship, we may respond to criticisms about changes in “rhetoric” with sound evidence about reciprocal, mutually beneficial, scholarly collaborations with the public.

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About the Authors

Diane Doberneck, Ph.D., is a researcher in the National Collaborative for the Study of University Engagement in University Outreach and Engagement; Chris R. Glass is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education; and John H. Schweitzer, Ph.D., is a professor in the Center for Community and Economic Development—all at Michigan State University.

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