Uncommon Ground

What counts? Evaluating public communication in tenure and promotion

Last Friday, the American Sociological Association released a subcommittee report entitled What counts? Evaluating public communication in tenure and promotion. It suggests that public communication of research can be assessed along three axes:

  • Type of content: explanatory journalism, opinion, application of research to a practical issue
  • Rigor and quality of the communication: peer-reviewed, edited, non-edited, effectiveness of communication for the intended audience
  • Public impact: number of readers, breadth of influence on policy or practice

Amy Schalet, Director of the Public Engagement Project at UMass Amherst, argues that public communication should be included in faculty evaluations, because when we include it, “we encourage [faculty] to share their knowledge with the members of society who could most benefit from it.”

I agree, but as always, the devil is in the details. Among the questions I wrestle with are:

  • To what extent is public communication of scholarly work an aspect of scholarly achievement?
  • Should public communication be regarded primarily as service in the tenure triad of teaching, research, and service?
  • Is public communication worthwhile only if it leads to changes in public policy or professional practice? Is it worthwhile if it leads “only” to greater aesthetic appreciation of the human or natural world?

The University of Connecticut has been recognized as a “Community Engaged” campus by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching since 2010 (ref). These are clearly among the questions that we need to answer.

Comment (1)

  1. Ric Smith

    It seems like I’m constantly hearing about a new way in which we are harming our atmosphere. It makes me sad to find out about all of the harm we’re causing – especially to our air quality. I’ve been doing plenty of studying over the last 12 months or so, and I was probably most surprised to discover that the Environmental Protection Agency has discovered that the air inside of the typical home in the United States is actually 2-5x more polluted than the air outside. Combined with the data that many adults can take in up to 70,000 liters of air daily, it seems like a reason for concern regarding the non-stop pollution of our world. How can we expect to stay free of illness – no matter how well we try to live and eat – if we’re continuously taking in harmful pollutants and contaminants?


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