Incorporating Community Engagement Language into Promotion and Tenure Policies: One University’s Journey

Pelco, L.E. & Howard, C. (2016). Incorporating community engagement language into promotion and tenure policies: One university’s journey. Metropolitan Universities, 27(2), 87-98, DOI: 10.18060/21129


This case study describes the campus context and process for successfully including community engagement language into promotion and tenure policies at Virginia Commonwealth University, a high research, urban public university. The paper also describes barriers our campus faced during the promotion and tenure policy revision process, especially myths that emerged surrounding community-engaged work in the academy. We describe key supports that facilitated a successful process, including the important champions who played roles on our campus.

Incentives and rewards for community engaged scholarship is cited frequently as a barrier to academic researchers becoming meaningfully engaged with community partners. “It’s not recognized as part of tenure & promotion” (T&P). There is a concern that time spent with community is time that is not spent with students, research or teaching all of which is rewarded in traditional T&P structures.

Well Virginia Commonwealth University has addressed this barrier.

The authors present a case study of their efforts to recognize community engaged activities in research, teaching and service. An early accomplishment was to agree on definitions that would apply across the campus. Check out their definitions of Community Engaged Scholarship and Community Engaged Research and tell me if you understand the difference – beyond the debatable proposition that scholarship also includes service – because I don’t.

The case study illustrates the importance of five “supports” for changing T&P. These include:

    High quality community engaged work already visible
    A pan university committee to tackle the issue
    Leadership (Provost, VP Research)
    Well timed strategy
    Expert support (in the form of a consultant in this case)

And there is discussion of a critical piece: assessment. The case calls for developing methods for assessing community engaged scholarship (research, teaching and service) especially in comparison to tradition scholarship. It also recognized the need to train academics and administrators in documentation and assessment.

A small, almost footnote, also stands out. “When evaluating and rewarding faculty work, it will also be important for universities…to increase the value of local impact so that it is afforded the same credibility in promotion and tenure reviews as national and international impact”. This echoes a previous journal club post about the moral obligation for universities to work locally for local benefit. International reputations like the Community University Partnership Program of the University of Brighton are built on local community engagement.

However, note this about Virginia Commonwealth. Since 2006, this university has had a Division of Community Engagement under the Provost. “The Division provides support and coordination for community-engaged teaching, research and outreach activities across all academic units on both campuses and currently employs more than 20 full time staff members. Virginia Commonwealth has an undergraduate student population of 24,051. That’s half the size of my university. I don’t know of any university in Canada that has even 5 full time members handling community (not industry) engagement even for universities that are much larger.

So what to do? I wrote about this in our LinkedIn page in 2014 in a post titled “It’s time to stop complaining about tenure and promotion and do something about it”. In that post I challenged passionate faculty members to organize and mobilize for T&P. This article shows them how to do it.

Questions for brokers:

Is there a correlation between the size of the university’s engagement office and its willingness to commit to tackling T&P? If both of these signal the degree of commitment to community engaged scholarship then what hope do Canadian universities without such support have?

Check out some Canadian work that looked at rewards and incentives for community engaged scholarship. Is your university there? What are some shining Canadian examples?

What this paper fails to do is consider incentives and rewards for community members partnering on these activities. How can the campus and community partners collaborate on incentives and rewards for all involved in the engagement efforts?

ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche is producing this journal club series as a way to make the evidence and research on knowledge mobilization more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create on line discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read the article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.

One Response to “Incorporating Community Engagement Language into Promotion and Tenure Policies: One University’s Journey”

written by Matthew S. MacLennan On 22 October 2016 Reply

I will just try to address your question David concerning the difference in the authors’ definition of ‘community-engaged research’ and ‘community-engaged scholarship’.

I think it would’ve been helpful if “scholarship” and “research” were defined in that table!

It seems that both definitions in their ‘community-engaged forms’ create and disseminate knowledge along with the community and the benefits of this also extend to the community.

However, the definitions of CES and CER contain different words:

the CES definition includes unique terms like
mutually beneficial partnership

the CER definition includes unique terms like
the discipline
wellbeing of the community
phases of research

So, although it is unclear, the two definitions contain mutually exclusive terms that I feel shed light on what the authors were hinting at. It sounds like they are hinting at least that ‘community-engaged research’ is that process we know of collecting data etc and trying to address a problem-related hypothesis (together with the engaged community). ‘Community-engaged scholarship’ is broader than CER and includes research, teaching and service along with knowledge generation, dissemination and assessment of the impact of these.

What do you all think?

Excerpts from the posted article follow (for quick reference):

Community- Engaged Scholarship

The creation and dissemination of knowledge and creative expression in
furtherance of the mission and goals of the university and in collaboration
with the community. Community-engaged scholarship (CES) addresses
community needs through research, teaching and service in a mutually
beneficial partnership. The quality and impact of CES are determined
by academic peers and community partners.

Community- Engaged Research

A collaborative process between the researcher and community partner
that creates and disseminates knowledge and creative expression with
the goal of contributing to the discipline and strengthening the wellbeing
of the community. Community-engaged research (CER)
identifies the assets of all stakeholders and incorporates them in the
design and conduct of the different phases of the research process.

Leave a Comment