November 2, 2013, by Brigitte Nerlich

On the value of scholarship

Three anecdotes and an email: Many years ago when I moved from the humanities to the social sciences, somebody remarked that from now on I would no longer just be doing scholarship but engage in actual research. That puzzled me at the time, but I now see, sort of, what that person meant. At the same time another person saw me lying on the sofa reading a library book and joked that now they knew what the ‘arts (or scholarship) research position’ looked like. The person was a bench scientist. When teaching general linguistics (a long time ago), one of my tutees gave me a newly published book which transformed my way of thinking about language and also set in train a whole new research agenda.

A week or so ago, a colleague here at the University of Nottingham, Mike Doenhoff, sent me an email in which he alerted me to an advert for a US university appointment which stated that the university in question adhered to the ‘Boyer model’ of scholarship. I became curious and looked a bit closer at this model which had been unknown to me before this email. It certainly shakes up some preconceived ideas of scholarship, but also of teaching and research.

Boyer’s model is based on a 1990 report: ‘Scholarship reconsidered: priorities of the professoriate‘. In the following I shall present Boyer’s ideas of scholarship, research and teaching and then discuss his model briefly in the context of recent debates about the respective values of research and teaching.

Scholarship reconsidered

Ernest Leroy Boyer (1928 – 1995) was an American educator who served as Commissioner of Education. Throughout his life he fostered reforms in teaching and education and closer relationship between teaching and research. In this process he also redefined the concept of ‘scholarship’. Boyer “proposed that ‘scholarship’ should be seen as covering four types of activity within a modern and engaged university:

The scholarship of discovery that includes original research that advances knowledge;

The scholarship of integration that involves synthesis of information across disciplines, across topics within a discipline, or across time;

The scholarship of application (also later called the scholarship of engagement) that goes beyond the service duties of a faculty member to those within or outside the University and involves the rigor and application of disciplinary expertise with results that can be shared with and/or evaluated by peers; and

The scholarship of teaching and learning that the systematic study of teaching and learning processes. It differs from scholarly teaching in that it requires a format that will allow public sharing and the opportunity for application and evaluation by others.” (emphasis added)

This model of ‘scholarship’ gives equal weight to the creation of knowledge, the integration of knowledge and the making sense of knowledge in context(s), the making use of knowledge in the wider world, with the wider world and for the wider world, and the interaction and transformation of knowledge through collaborative teaching and learning.

The first and second types of scholarship can be said to ‘make public knowledge’ and the third and forth to ‘make knowledge public’. Both these wider activities are interrelated and can’t be carried out in isolation. There is however a tendency to pull these activities apart in the context of reorganising the (public) funding of teaching and research both in the US and the UK.

Some threats to the intrinsic values of Boyer’s model

The balanced type of scholarship proposed by Boyer can be threatened by various developments, one intrinsic to the proposal itself, but most coming from the outside.

One problem that can arise within the scholarship of application has been highlighted by Marta Nibert in a short summary of ‘Scholarship reconsidered’: “It must be recognized that the application which Boyer advocates is not without potential risk to the intellectual program and independence of the academy”, followed by a footnote saying “I have in mind, whether society will happily accept the academy’s advice & challenges to social order; will the academic agenda become overburdened with the immediate, the faddish, ‘industry responsiveness’?” (p. 7). This is a question we have to ask in the age of impact and engagement. I will now turn to a threat to the scholarship of teaching (the value of which was closest to Boyer’s heart).

The ‘value’ of the scholarship of teaching

In a recent article published in the THE, one can read an extract of a text published by David Willetts, the UK’s Minister of State for Universities and Science. The article says: “Writing in Robbins Revisited: Bigger and Better Higher Education, published by the Social Market Foundation thinktank on 21 October, Mr Willetts says that asking institutions to ‘provide a breakdown of the average number of discussion classes for each course – broken down as Robbins suggests into tutorials, small seminars and large seminars’, would allow students and parents to judge courses by ‘the sort of teaching they value’. ‘The cost of this could be low, given that institutions collect this sort of data for timetables,’ he writes. ‘And it would make good teaching visible’”.

Although teaching happens predominantly during specific timetabled slots (lectures, seminars), much of the ‘scholarship of teaching’ is invisible and can not be easily quantified or monitised. There are chats, encounters, emails, tweets, blogs, Moodle forums, meetings at seminars or public lectures and so on, which fall outside quantifiable timetable slots. So, while I applaud David Willetts’ suggestion that teaching should be valued more, I rather frown at the ‘faddish’ valuing of teaching in terms of time and money, which, I believe would actually undermine what Boyer saw as the scholarship of teaching. It would also make good teaching invisible and probably vanish altogether.

Before these proposals for a quantification of teaching, the academy has lived through the increasing quantification of the scholarship of discovery, or research as we commonly call it. Both types of quantification may undermine and devalue Boyer’s broad and overarching idea of scholarship which always links discovery, integration, application and teaching/learning, or, as I said above: ‘making public knowledge/science’ and ‘making knowledge/science (in) public’.


Wilhelm von Humboldt (whom I have evoked before in another blog post) would have wept, I think, if he had witnessed such developments, as he dreamed of the unity of research and teaching (Einheit der Forschung und Lehre) and of the university as a community of teachers and learners engaged together in scholarship. I therefore want to end this post with a quote from Humboldt’s 1809 manifesto for the organisation of higher education and a new type of ‘Wissenschaft’ (which, in German, refers to the natural sciences as well as the humanities and social sciences): “Es ist ferner eine Eigenthümlichkeit der höheren wissenschaftlichen Anstalten, dass sie die Wissenschaft immer als ein noch nicht ganz aufgelöstes Problem behandeln und daher immer im Forschen bleiben, da die Schule es nur mit fertigen und abgemachten Kenntnissen zu thun hat und lernt. Das Verhältnis zwischen Lehrer und Schüler wird daher durchaus ein anderes als vorher. … Der erstere ist nicht für die letzteren. Beide sind für die Wissenschaft da.” (It is a particularity of higher scientific organisations that they treat scholarship/science as a never quite solved problem and therefore encourage continued research, whereas schools deal with established and consensual knowledge and its learning. The relation between teachers and students will therefore be quite a different one [in universities as compared to schools]… Here the former are not just there for the latter; both are there for scholarship/science.”)

Image: Illustration from The Book of the City of Ladies (1405), or Le Livre de la Cité des Dames by Christine de Pizan – wikimedia commons

Posted in Science Policy