Re-imagining the ivory tower / Reconcevoir la tour d’ivoire

By David Phipps (ResearchImpact, York)
KMb is enhancing transparency and access to universities but as we work hard at engaging we remain struck in silos inside the ivory tower.

La mobilisation des connaissances accroît la transparence et l’accès aux universités. Toutefois, malgré le travail acharné que nous accomplissons en ce sens, nous demeurons prisonniers des silos à l’intérieur de la tour d’ivoire.
Recently I attended a curling bonspiel in Ottawa and because my team lost as soon as they could I ended up on twitter and saw this @fedcan tweet

Good morning all! We’re live blogging @fedcan‘s annual conference this morning at

The Canadian Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences (FedCan) was holding their Annual Conference,  which featured a talk by SSHRC President, Chad Gaffield. The theme of the conference was “The Humanities Paradox: More Relevant and Less Visible Than Ever?” and the title of Chad’s talk was “Re-imagining Scholarship in the Digital Age“, both of which had a theme of exploring the relevance of academic research outside of the academy. Chad’s talk was wide ranging but for anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing Chad speak as many times as I have his observations were familiar. They were all linked by the theme of “re-imagining”, imaging a new paradigm of scholarship that is emerging on campuses across Canada. Specifically, Chad spoke of re-imagining in three areas: teaching, research and campus-community connections.

  • The old “professor push” method of teaching is evolving into a student centred, inquiry based method of learning. Text heavy, power point slides are being replaced by image heavy and digital rich media. Students are exploring problems rather than being told solutions.


  • Researchers are pursing horizontal connections across different ways of knowing. This means that researchers are not only reaching out to other scholarly disciplines but they are embracing community, Aboriginal and other traditions of knowledge.


  • Scholars are moving from a unilateral “producer push” knowledge transfer methodology to a multi-directional knowledge mobilization method of connecting with communities, governments and the private sector as active participants, not passive subjects throughout the research cycle.

Chad’s re-imagining of our campuses exchanges a paradigm of privilege with one of engagement. Learning, research and connections increasingly happen across the campus, across communities and across countries. This doesn’t replace the ivory tower but it creates windows for transparency and doors for access into and out of the ivory tower.
My question to Chad was not about the re-imagining, which is clearly underway. I observed that the new paradigm is being practiced but in silos. Although interdisciplinarity is emerging, engaged scholars in homelessness don’t speak with engaged scholars in immigration who don’t swap stories to those in business ethics (and that’s just on my own campus of York University). While universities like those in the ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche network are supporting KMb and engaged scholarship, the researchers and their partners remain in their silos. The ivory tower might have windows and doors but it remains a collective of individual offices each with walls and a door.
We need to re-imagine not just the walls of the ivory tower but the inside as well. Ivory towers need to open up inside as they are opening up outside. We are at risk of becoming good at talking to everyone except each other.