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ASHE Higher Education Report: Volume 43, Number 2

Faculty Members' Scholarly Learning Across Institutional Types

Vicki L. Baker, Aimee LaPointe Terosky,

Edna Martinez

Advisory Board


The ASHE Higher Education Report Series is sponsored by the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), which provides an editorial advisory board of ASHE members.

Amy Bergerson

University of Utah

Bryan Brayboy

Arizona State University

Ryan Gildersleeve

University of Denver

Michael Harris

Southern Methodist University

Elizabeth Jones

Holy Family University

Adrianna Kezar

University of Southern California

Kevin Kinser

SUNY – Albany

Peter Magolda

Miami University of Ohio

Dina C. Maramba

SUNY – Binghamton

Susan Marine

Merrimack College

Christopher Morphew

University of Iowa

Robert Palmer

SUNY – Binghamton

Michael Paulsen

University of Iowa

Todd Ream

Taylor University

Barbara Tobolowsky

University of Texas at Arlington

Carolyn Thompson

University of Missouri, Kansas City

Diane Wright

Florida Atlantic University

Executive Summary

IN A RELATIVELY short period of time, the professoriate has experienced dramatic changes including the erosion of tenure (Nelson, 2010), a rising contingent workforce (Kezar & Maxey, 2012), threats to academic freedom (Reichman, 2015), and a push for faculty members to manage academic work in a more entrepreneurial way (Givens, 2011). As researchers and practitioners of higher education analyze and address the implications of these changes for higher education and its faculty and students, a significant component of the professorial career often gets overlooked—that of faculty members’ scholarly learning. Conceptualized by Anna Neumann (2009a), scholarly learning, briefly defined as a faculty member's deep engagement in and commitment to a subject matter, is considered the very reason that draws most faculty members into academia. Yet, scholarly learning has been and continues to be largely understudied and misunderstood; oftentimes scholarly learning is only studied in the context of research universities (Neumann, 2009a), thereby failing to acknowledge the ways in which faculty scholarly learning is enacted and supported across institutional types.

In this monograph, we studied more than 400 books, book chapters, peer-reviewed articles, and empirical research studies written about scholarly learning or related content between 2000 and 2016, with an emphasis on four institutional types: research universities, comprehensives, liberal arts, and community colleges; thereby broadening the discussion of scholarly learning beyond the one context of the research university. In order to frame our literature review of scholarly learning at these four institutional types, we employed the work of Ernest Boyer's (1990) Scholarship Reconsidered and situated the available literature on faculty learning in his four forms of scholarship: discovery, teaching, engagement, and integration.

The following questions guided this monograph:

Grounded in these questions, this monograph contributed to the discussion on faculty work by (a) highlighting literature that defines scholarly work and what it looks like across a full range of institution types including research universities, comprehensives, liberal arts, and community colleges; (b) reviewing empirical and practitioner studies that note the best ways to support and advance faculty members’ scholarly learning across institution types; (c) expanding the narrative on where scholarly learning takes place beyond the current focus on major research universities and recognizing that scholarly learning occurs in different genres and for different aims (Boyer, 1990); and (d) recognizing the challenges of better understanding scholarly learning at the full range of institution types by highlighting areas for future research and improved practices. This monograph will serve as a resource for current and aspiring higher education researchers, faculty members, professional development practitioners, and academic administrators who are interested in better understanding and supporting the core of academic work—faculty members’ scholarly learning.

In the first chapter, we briefly discuss the current state of higher education, particularly in relation to the professoriate. We introduce the notion of scholarly learning and discuss the associated challenges and opportunities. In the second chapter, we define the monograph's conceptual framework of scholarly learning, as viewed through work by Neumann (2009a).

In the third through sixth chapters, we focus on scholarly learning in each of the following institutional types respectively: research universities, comprehensives, liberal arts, and community colleges. To summarize our findings on research universities (third chapter), we note that the scholarship of discovery (i.e., traditional research) is emphasized per the mission of research universities and increasing expectations for research and funding productivity. We also acknowledge that tensions exist around faculty members’ time allocations and the valuation of teaching and service at this institutional type, as well as alignment between faculty members’ scholarly interests and workload demands. Our findings on comprehensives note that this institutional type is facing confusion around its mission and identity because of continued interest in the scholarship of engagement and teaching, while simultaneously rising expectations around the scholarship of discovery. In regard to liberal arts colleges, this institution's tradition of leading in the scholarship of teaching remains; however, the potential for leadership in other forms of scholarship exists but often remains unknown. To summarize our findings for community colleges, we find that although community college faculty identify as teachers, they also engage in other forms of scholarship.

In sum, an overarching finding of this monograph is as follows: Although mission and academic cultures and norms influence the forms of scholarship engaged in or valued by faculty members across institutional types, our review of the literature highlights that faculty scholarly learning is complex and cannot be described in generic overviews by institutional types. In other words, scholars, policymakers, and practitioners cannot overlook the scholarly interests and passions held by faculty for their own learning and their knowledge expansion and construction (Terosky & Gonzales, 2016), regardless of their employing institutional type. The last chapter discusses if and how the current literature on faculty work expands the notions on where scholarly learning takes place beyond the current focus on major research universities and that scholarly learning occurs in different genres and for different aims (Boyer, 1990) and highlighted areas for future research and improved practices that advance faculty members’ scholarly learning across institution types.


WE WANT TO thank Lisa Wolf-Wendel and Kelly Ward for the opportunity to write this monograph. We also thank Leslie Gonzales for her support and advice during the writing stage, Ryan Arey and Dáire Ryans for their review and corrections, and Sarah Asklock for her editorial support.


BURTON CLARK (1989) in his book, The Academic Life: Small Worlds, Different Worlds, was one of the first to write about how the work engaged in by faculty members varies greatly by discipline and by institutional type. Building on the importance of context for how faculty go about their work, in this monograph, Faculty Members’ Scholarly Learning across Institutional Types, authors Vicki Baker, Aimee LaPointe Terosky, and Edna Martinez revisit and apply Clark's work by looking at the content of what it is that faculty do and also the setting in which they work. The monograph is framed using Neumann's (2009a,b) construct of scholarly learning—a concept that highlights the engagement and commitment to developing faculty expertise—as a way to think about faculty work. Using Ernest Boyer's (1990) broadened definition of scholarship (discovery, teaching, engagement, and integration), the monograph authors make sense of the varied and complicated lives of faculty members within different contexts. The monograph is organized using the scholarly learning construct as expressed through Boyer's views of scholarship and also focused on how faculty work and scholarly learning are manifested in different institutional types. Briefly defined, scholarly learning is faculty engagement in and commitment to their subject matter. It is typically the attraction to developing disciplinary expertise that draws faculty to life as scholars. Regardless of the area of work (i.e., teaching, research, and/or service), faculty members rely on their areas of expertise to contribute to their institutions. Faculty are hired for their disciplinary expertise. A scholarly learning orientation focuses on keeping faculty engaged and committed to the ongoing development of their expertise. Part of retaining the best and brightest in higher education is having robust mechanisms for faculty development, support, and recognition. The significance of scholarly learning is its connection to keeping faculty engaged and generative across career stages and across all areas of work. A scholarly learning framework, as presented by the authors in this monograph, is one that is relevant for institutions to maintain so they can not only recruit but also retain high-quality and diverse faculty. Expertise needs to be nurtured. Too often support for faculty is related to early career; a scholarly learning approach is one that cuts across the career and also in all areas of faculty work. Readers will find information in the monograph that provides a helpful way not only to think about faculty work from a conceptual standpoint but also, more importantly, to look at ways for institutions to support faculty and create environments that recognize and reward learning-oriented perspectives.

The monograph is particularly timely given the neoliberal context of faculty life where there are more faculty working in short-term and nontenure-track appointments and where faculty are increasingly called upon to do more with less. Faculty in all sectors of higher education feel the pressure to be increasingly productive, competitive, and ultimately self-supporting; cumulatively the pressures associated with contemporary faculty life can threaten creativity and the very productivity that is the goal. A cornerstone of faculty life is engagement, learning, and development. In this monograph, the authors detail what faculty work looks like in different settings. Something we really like about the monograph is how useful it can be to help frame conversations that are taking place at institutions across the country that are trying to maintain the values of traditional academic environments (i.e., learning, creativity) at the same time that it is necessary to acknowledge the fiscal realities that require new and creative ways to stay viable. Faculty play a key role in institutional vitality. It behooves institutions to adopt a scholarly learning orientation as a way to support teaching, promote research, and enhance service.

The monograph is sure to be of interest to those who study the academic career, as well as professional development practitioners and academic administrators who are interested in better supporting the needs of their faculty members. Researchers focused on faculty as well as teaching and learning related topics will find the monograph instructive given the broad swath of research that is cited related to faculty work, scholarship, and institutional type. The authors use the literature on topics related to faculty work and scholarly learning that is sure to be a complement to related research topics. Faculty members themselves, along with potential faculty members, will also find this monograph useful as a means of better understanding the kind of work that gets done at different institutional types. The work raises awareness of how scholarly work and learning are framed in different contexts and what is needed to better support those who seek to advance learning.

The monograph is attentive to the nuances associated with faculty work and faculty learning in different institutional types. Too often research about “faculty” is presented absent the distinctions in what faculty do and how teaching, research, and service are shaped by institutional context. The focus in the monograph on institutional types is refreshing, informative, and comprehensive. The use of Boyer's expanded definition of scholarship is also helpful as a way to think about faculty work that is comprehensive. Faculty, administrators, and researchers in different organizational settings will clearly be able to locate their work.

The monograph reads as a companion and update of the O'Meara, LaPointe Terosky, and Neumann (2008) monograph, Faculty Careers and Work Lives: A Professional Growth Perspective. Common across both these pieces is a focus on faculty learning and development—concepts that are more often associated with students. Historically there has been little emphasis on faculty scholarly learning. There also tends to be limited focus on faculty work across institutional types. In higher education, references to learning typically focus on students. Important to keeping a faculty workforce that is holistic and supportive of student learning is a focus on keeping faculty generative by supporting their learning. Given the challenges facing higher education today, it is particularly vital to focus on what faculty do, in what institution context they do it, and how it is that faculty stay vital and learning oriented. The future of higher education depends on it.

Kelly Ward

Lisa Wolf-Wendel