Engaging Scholarship for Public Impact

February 14, 2011

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:

I am very excited to see interest and input in the strategic planning process blossoming across the KU community — through discussions among groups of scholars, comments on the discussion boards, attendance at open meeting and coffees, and the many emails I have received. Your input is absolutely essential to creating a vibrant future at KU and in Kansas.

I especially encourage all members of the KU community to make active use of the strategic planning discussion boards. If you’re thinking of nominating a strategic initiative, use the discussion board we provided to vet ideas and make connections. BTW, if you missed the February 4th town hall meeting, you can view the Q&A online.

In last week’s Monday Message, Chancellor Gray-Little called our attention to service as central to KU’s mission as a public research university. Today I would like to focus on the strategic planning work group, Engaging Scholarship for Public Impact (ESPI), as it considers the important intersection of the core missions of scholarship and service.

To understand better what we mean by "engaged scholarship" and why it is important to KU, I have asked the co-chairs of the ESPI work group, Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett and Jeff Aubé, to share their progress with you in today’s installment of Provost eNews. Here is what they have to say:

We were very pleased to be invited by Provost Vitter to co-chair the work group on Engaging Scholarship for Public Impact (ESPI). We believe wholeheartedly that a public university should serve the public good through research and scholarship — certainly through long-term impact, but also in direct and targeted ways. We have an excellent committee comprised of faculty, staff, and students who are committed to working in and with the community at a variety of levels (local, state, national, and world) to develop research and scholarly projects that improve lives and advance communities.

One of the more challenging aspects of the ESPI work group’s efforts has been coming up with a definition of engaged scholarship that is comprehensive and inclusive and that fits KU’s mission as Kansas’ flagship university. The term “engaged” emphasizes connection with and service to the community. In engaged scholarship, the focus is still on the community, but the mechanism involves scholarship — contributing to the body of knowledge in one’s own discipline and adhering to recognized measures of quality. It could involve peer-reviewed articles, monographs, and creative activities, but also validated intellectual contributions in nontraditional venues, such as patents, launches of new companies, innovations in K–12 education, and recognized social reforms. This working definition is reflected in ESPI’s overall goal:

KU will engage local, state, national, and global communities as partners in scholarly activities that have direct public impact.

While engaged scholarship may be difficult to define, it comes in many forms that are easy to find:

  • Yo Jackson, associate professor of clinical child psychology, directs the NIH-funded SPARK project (Studying Pathways to Adjustment and Resilience in Kids), which examines how youth exposed to child abuse recover and develop positive behavior. KU students work with foster families and local and state agencies to learn about the effects of abuse and what works in the lives of youth in foster care.
  • Steve Barlow, professor of speech-language-hearing sciences and disorders, studies at-risk premature newborns, who often have difficulty learning how to feed. One result, the NTrainer System technology, enables premature infants to feed naturally before discharge from the neonatal intensive care unit. It is currently being commercialized locally by KC BioMedix of Shawnee.
  • Originally funded by the Ford Foundation, for the past 25 years professor of anthropology Don Stull has studied the impact of the meatpacking industry and immigration. In 2001, he was presented with the key to Garden City and made an honorary citizen in recognition of the value of his work to that community. A new edition of his book Slaughterhouse Blues is forthcoming.

Many other examples appear on the ESPI web pages. So why emphasize engaged scholarship now? Simply put: it is KU’s duty to serve its communities. Does this mean that service without a scholarly component is no longer important? No, not at all; external service or outreach will always be a valued contribution. However, we are focusing our planning efforts on advancing engaged scholarship so as to most effectively advance the tremendous intellectual strengths and reputation of KU and at the same time to make lasting positive contributions to society.

Traditional scholarship and engaged scholarship should each be valued and rewarded as important aspects of our research mission. Our underlying intent is to enhance scholarly excellence in all forms — and by so doing to unleash the amazing creativity of our faculty, staff, and students.

In a few weeks, the ESPI work group, along with the other three work groups, will submit its recommendations to the strategic planning steering committee, and the recommendations will be publicly vetted at town hall meetings next month. The strategic action plan that emerges will advance KU as a world-class engaged research university.

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

P.S. Congratulations to the Staff Learning and Development Council, organizers of the first Staff Leadership Summit on Thursday, February 17th. I hope that staff who attend the summit will also attend the post-summit roundtable discussions on strategic planning at 3:15 p.m.

This issue of Provost eNews as well as past ones can be found on the Provost eNews web page.

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