Novel policies that reward faculty for work beyond traditional research and publications garner national attention as WCU embraces the Boyer model


The more Mary Byrnes learned about Western Carolina’s innovative policies rewarding faculty for scholarship that may not be traditional research – especially work that benefits the community – the more the once-reluctant scholar felt she belonged at WCU. Byrnes was working as an urban planner in Detroit when she stopped to help an elderly woman who had fallen, spilling groceries across the sidewalk and into the gutter. Byrnes insisted on driving the woman home, only to discover she was living in a deteriorated house where the awning had collapsed over the front entrance. Barred, closed windows blocked gang and drug activity but locked in extreme heat. “It was a nightmarish scenario,” said Byrnes. She soon decided to become a scholar to develop solutions to problems older people face in their homes – solutions that could benefit entire communities.

In collaboration with the Jackson County Senior Center,
Mary Byrnes (center), assistant professor of sociology, is
conducting a needs assessment of older adults in a way that
will benefit the community. Byrnes is exploring not only their
housing and community needs, but also how they emotionally
make sense of a place like Jackson County.

“My scholarship has always been community-based. I’d be quite unhappy if I were only working through my research to make a contribution to my field through theory creation and academic cross-talk. That’s just really not why I became a scholar,” said Byrnes, an assistant professor of sociology now working on a project related to helping senior residents. “WCU’s incorporation of the Boyer model of scholarship was a strong pull in my decision to accept this position.”

In 2007, WCU became one of the first midsized institutions in the country to formally adopt the Boyer model in universitywide tenure policies. The move expanded the kinds of work faculty can submit to demonstrate their ongoing achievements as scholars when they apply to be named permanently to the faculty through the tenure process, or to be promoted or reappointed. The model was detailed by the late Ernest L. Boyer in his 1990 book, “Scholarship Reconsidered.” Boyer, then president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, reasoned that students lose when faculty are uniformly rewarded more for research and publications than for investing their time in teaching, counseling and advising. He also predicted that the nation would suffer without a renewed commitment to service in faculty reward systems. “At no time in our history has the need been greater for connecting the work of the academy to the social and environmental challenges beyond the campus,” wrote Boyer.

He outlined four kinds of scholarship: The “scholarship of discovery” included original research – often measured by research grants and academic publications. The “scholarship of teaching” included the systematic study of teaching and learning itself. The “scholarship of integration” involved the synthesis of information across disciplines, topics or time. The “scholarship of application” was the application of disciplinary expertise that produces results. He later described the “scholarship of engagement,” which related to applying university resources to address community problems.

Part of the benefit of this shift is to clarify the common principles of scholarly work that underlie faculty’s various responsibilities in teaching, research and service, said Pat Hutchings, senior associate with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. “Faculty are already very pressed on most campuses,” said Hutchings. “What they need is a way to integrate and connect their various roles and scholarly endeavors, not a mandate to do more.”

WCU’s incorporation of the Boyer model landed the university in the national media, from MSNBC to The Boston Globe to Inside Higher Ed. People from other institutions wanted to know more. “They ask, ‘How do you pull that off?’ They are generally very curious and sometimes a little skeptical,’” said Carol Burton ’87 MAEd ’89, assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate studies.

This fall, WCU will share its experience as the sponsor of a retreat, “Integrating Boyer into Your Institutional Culture,” in Asheville from Sept. 19 to 23. The event will feature discussion of best practices; speakers including Hutchings, who will deliver the keynote address; direct support in integrating the Boyer model; and small-group and team-building sessions. “The Boyer model is not always widely accepted, and it’s not for every institution. It really does need to fit with your mission and have the support of faculty and administration,” said Burton. “At WCU, our faculty were engaged in the Boyer model of scholarship before the Boyer model was popular, but we didn’t have the formal mechanisms that we do now to promote and reward faculty members for this type of work.”

Evolution of an Idea

Initially, Boyer’s model was not fully embraced at WCU, said Bruce Henderson, professor of psychology. “Most of the time, scholarship is still equated with research and publication on our campus,” wrote Henderson and now-retired WCU management professor William Kane in a letter published in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 1990. “We have been surprised at the degree of resistance to the broader notion of scholarship. And we are a comprehensive, not a research, university.”

Bob Houghton of the College of Education and Allied Professions
illustrates that being a faculty member in the 21st century can be a
balancing act between new technologies and traditional research.

WCU started warming to the idea, however, and the need to make at least some changes to the tenure process became more pressing in 2001 with an unusual tenure application submitted by Bob Houghton, then assistant professor of elementary education with expertise in educational technology. The exponentially rapid development of the Internet in the 1990s had left Houghton, who had a significant teaching load, with a difficult choice: Would he invest his time in writing scholarly articles for refereed (paper) journals, or in learning and publishing within the (multimedia) Web? “I could not do both,” said Houghton. So in his tenure application, he submitted some traditional publications and, under the tenure application’s provision for “creative works,” also some links to sites that showed the tens of thousands of digital files and related creative works he had created to help his students – future teachers – become digitally literate.

“How would the tenure committee compare my work to a 2,000-word article published in blind, peer-reviewed publication?” asked Houghton. What they did was send his materials to a peer in Houghton’s discipline – a scholar in Iceland – to review and remark on the quality. “The committee was willing to take a chance that there was something substantive in my work,” said Houghton, who was awarded tenure.

Meanwhile, a Faculty Senate committee began reviewing tenure and promotion. “We soon realized the process at WCU varied tremendously from department to department,” said Newton Smith, an English professor who chaired the committee. After working with Rick Collings, then vice chancellor of academic affairs and now president of Southwestern Community College, and WCU’s Myron L. Coulter Faculty Commons for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, the committee turned to the Boyer model. The concept fit well with WCU’s developing Quality Enhancement Plan, “Synthesis: A Pathway to Intentional Learning,” which formally committed WCU in 2007 to helping students integrate their experiences in and out of the classroom and become fully engaged with their learning and their communities.

After the University of North Carolina Board of Governors approved the incorporation of the Boyer model of scholarship into WCU’s faculty handbook, the next step was adapting the model into the specific criteria of each department’s collegial review documents. “The basic idea of the Boyer model was something most faculty were ready to accept fairly easily,” said Richard Beam, past chair of the Faculty Senate and associate professor of theater. “The devil was, as it usually is, in the details.”

Academic Bocce Ball

As departments across WCU revised their criteria to incorporate the Boyer model, they grappled with questions. What kinds of new scholarship “products” would they accept? Should the policies require faculty to submit at least some traditional scholarship? Would faculty be competitive for jobs at other universities if their scholarship at WCU was nontraditional? How would it affect accreditation?

Quality was a big challenge. “How do you figure out if engaged work that might fall under the ‘scholarship of application’ is good?” asked Laura Cruz, interim director of Coulter Faculty Commons. “Does a report for a community organization carry the same weight as a peer-reviewed article in a scholarly publication? If you do consulting work for a local business, is the client just as qualified to assess the quality of the work as an expert in the faculty member’s field? It’s tricky.”

One faculty member compared the process at WCU to a game of bocce ball with each unit trying to toss its ball closer to the mark, resulting in a seemingly random constellation, noted an article by WCU faculty members who studied the resulting approximately three dozen Boyer model-infused collegial review documents. Some documents offered examples of nontraditional scholarship that would be accepted, such as museum exhibits or sponsorship of student research. One-third mentioned public service as a desired emphasis. Some placed higher value on single-author publications than those in fields such as business, where networking and collaboration is critical. Some classified public performances or work on accreditation documents as scholarship, and others only as service.

Most included some mechanism for external review of nontraditional scholarship. To qualify as scholarship as well as service, work must be peer-reviewed, said Beth Tyson Lofquist ’78 MAEd ’79 EdS ’88, associate provost. When a faculty member submits an article for publication to a traditional scholarly journal, the work is blindly reviewed by other scholars in the field and, if deemed worthy, published. Tenure committees see that as a testament to the quality of the work and count it as scholarship, said Lofquist. With the adoption of the Boyer model, each department had to consider how to measure whether nontraditional work meets rigorous standards reflective of scholarship. “In order for a scholarly activity to move to the scholarship level, it must be documented, subject to critical review, in a form allowing the use and exchange by others members of a discipline, and made available to the public,” said Linda Seestedt-Stanford, interim provost.

The Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology, for instance, established a college-level engagement committee to include at least one external reviewer that would be convened for pre- and post-evaluation of engaged work. “The scholarship of application goes beyond the provision of service to those within or outside of the university,” states the school’s collegial review documents. “To be considered scholarship, there must be an intellectually compelling and significant (consequential) application of disciplinary expertise with results that can be shared with and/or evaluated by peers.”

Henderson said creating processes to accept non-traditional scholarship took incorporating the Boyer model far beyond just including it in a mission statement. “It’s not easy to do,” he said. “It’s easy to count publications.”

Testing the Waters

Hutchings, whose Carnegie work has focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning, said new policies, which are often and necessarily quite general, must be brought to life by concrete cases and examples. “This takes time,” she said. And so far at WCU, no faculty member has won tenure primarily based on work that is now accepted because of the policy changes. Brian Gastle, head of the Department of English, said it can be hard for faculty to accept that work does not need to end up in a scholarly publication to count as scholarship.

One of the deterrents, perhaps, is that the Boyer model is not universally accepted beyond WCU, said Billy Ogletree, head of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. “For new faculty members working toward tenure, this can be an issue,” said Ogletree. “How do they want their scholarship to be perceived regionally, nationally or internationally? Will adherence to the Boyer model reduce their opportunities to be competitive in the job market? I address this by simply encouraging folks to be diverse with their scholarship and to include examples that are traditionally accepted in our discipline.”

This year, Lori Unruh, coordinator of the graduate program in school psychology, will submit in her tenure application examples of traditional scholarship as well as an example of nontraditional scholarship – a report from a research project that involved evaluating a beginning teacher support program. The report, which has been reviewed and evaluated by two peers at other institutions, noted findings that suggest where changes could be made to increase effectiveness, and it was shared with regional school systems. For Unruh, the project took just as much time – if not more – than her work on traditional journal publications. The difference was it was the kind of scholarship she enjoys most and believes could directly and immediately make a difference at schools.

Although integrating the Boyer model is still ongoing, WCU has emerged as a leader in the area through adopting new tenure policies and hosting the Boyer retreat. Chancellor John W. Bardo, who has long supported the incorporation of the Boyer model at WCU, predicted other universities will follow. “It will be necessary if higher education is to play its critical role in society in the future,” he said.

For WCU faculty, it came down to a matter of values, said Smith. “It represents the way we teach – with an eye toward applied research and engagement with the community,” he said. “Adopting the Boyer model showed courage on the part of the Faculty Senate, the faculty in general and the administration. But most of all, it is what we should be doing.”


Discussing the Boyer model of scholarship at Western Carolina University has made faculty members more thoughtful about their work. The following vignettes are not examples of work classified as “scholarship” at WCU under the new policies – at least not yet – but do illustrate how faculty members are honoring the values of discovery, integration, application and teaching.


Biology faculty Kathy Gould Mathews and Beverly Collins designed a study of delicate high-elevation plant communities in Western North Carolina to explore not only the impact of climate change but also to help land managers know what they can do to protect heavily visited sites.

“If we were only interested in the scholarship of discovery, we might not have included the trampling aspect in the research – the amount of vegetation cover on the rocks – and focused only on climate change,” said Mathews.


WCU faculty from communication, stage and screen, music and history joined forces last year on an academic entertainment project – researching, writing and staging a show on Veterans Day called “On the Home Front, Nov. ’44.” The live, historically accurate re-creation of the popular World War II radio show “Command Performance, USA!” took two years to research and fact check, said Don Connelly, head of the communication department.

Steve Carlisle ’73, the show’s director and associate dean of the Honors College, said the steps they took to be as historically authentic as possible ranged from not wearing modern watches to not using yellow highlighter on scripts. Bruce Frazier, WCU’s Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music, researched the music of the time as he prepared arrangements. Richard Starnes ’92 MA ’94, head of the history department, served as military historian and guided his students in preparing an exhibit. Susan Brown-Strauss, director of the theater and dance program, ensured all costumes, including a student’s grandfather’s military uniform, were historically accurate for 1944.

The show was broadcast live on two radio stations, raised money for scholarships and later won two top awards at the Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts. Faculty illustrated each kind of scholarship described by Boyer through the process, said Connelly. “Unlike some of the work that gets tucked away in a journal the public never sees, ‘On the Home Front’ was shared with our community and our region,” said Connelly.


Western Carolina faculty are assisting with revitalization efforts in Dillsboro, where tourism declined when the economy turned and declined again when the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad reduced trips to the town. In one initiative, public relations faculty guided students in planning a town marketing event called “Dillsboro on Display” and in teaching business owners to use tools such as Facebook and Twitter for marketing. In another, business faculty Sandy Grunwell, associate professor of hospitality and tourism, and Steve Ha, associate professor of economics, designed and conducted surveys of town merchants, WCU community members and Dillsboro visitors.

“This applied research has helped us understand the needs, attitudes and possible solutions,” said Betty Farmer, professor of communication and public relations, and special assistant to the chancellor for the Dillsboro-WCU partnership. “The Dillsboro partnership is a clear example of the scholarship of application.”


Brian Byrd, assistant professor of environmental health, designs his research of Western North Carolina mosquito species and the mosquito-borne illness La Crosse encephalitis with all four aspects of Boyer’s model of scholarship in mind. Byrd sees the scholarship of discovery in his search for new information, the scholarship of application in using discoveries to reduce the incidence of La Crosse encephalitis and the scholarship of integration to fully understand the complexities of mosquito-borne illness. “We approach the problem mostly from a biomedical or epidemiological perspective, but we require help from ecologists, geographic information specialists and human behaviorists,” said Byrd. He honors the scholarship of teaching as he conducts most of his research in collaboration with undergraduate students. “This requires an extraordinary amount of teaching effort,” he said.


In collaboration with the Center for Rapid Product Realization within the Kimmel School, WCU faculty members and students help community members solve problems that require engineering or technology expertise. The center’s projects range from helping a firm create a prototype of a part needed for a biomedical sensing device to assisting a company with fine-tuning a precision method for reproducing antique furniture.

Recently, Phil Sanger, associate professor of engineering and technology and director of the center, worked with Alesia Carpenter, coordinator of the regional simulation laboratory for the School of Nursing, and students to develop a prototype of a patient simulator embedded with sensors that measure the amount of pressure exerted on different parts of the body when a patient is moved. The goal of the project, developed in partnership with Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Winston-Salem State University, is to create a marketable tool to help medical professionals learn and practice the safest methods for positioning and handling patients to avoid the development of bedsores.