Scholarly Service and the Scholarship of Service

Your committee work can be more rewarding for you and the institution when you apply the principles of research.
By E. Suzanne Lee

The scholarship of teaching has received a considerable amount of attention in recent years, with new recognition that our research does not necessarily exclude our pedagogy. But research and teaching are not the only parts of our lives as faculty members. Much of what we do on our campuses comes under the heading of service. It is time to acknowledge that service can be scholarly and that we can also engage in scholarship about service.

Faculty members engage in scholarly service when they use research principles and methodologies to study problems and seek solutions as they are engaged in service to their institutions. For example, faculty members can use research methodologies to gather needed input from constituents when policy change is required at the departmental, school, or institutional level; to replace overused anecdotal evidence so that committees can recommend data-driven policy changes; and to assess faculty, staff, and student experiences of any committee charge related to university functions. When we share the processes we use, the knowledge we gain, and the outcomes of our scholarly service with our peers—those on our campus as well as those at other institutions—we engage in the scholarship of service. My experience at Saint Xavier University, where I teach, illustrates how scholarship and service can overlap.

Policy Revision

In fall 2004, I became the new chair of Saint Xavier’s academic policies committee. The committee identified student grade grievances as the most important recurring policy issue, and I organized a subcommittee to help tackle the problem. The four-member subcommittee, which included education professor David Bell, English professor Angelo Bonadonna, nursing professor Zepure Boyadjian, and me, applied the principles of learning communities to the policy revision. We interviewed approximately thirty faculty members, students, and administrators and engaged in countless meetings, intense discussions, and analytical reflection before we drafted a new policy proposal. We solicited feedback on our proposal through additional interviews and focus groups, thematically analyzed the data from these focus groups, and revised the policy according to our analysis.

With the revised proposal in hand, we returned to interested faculty constituencies for feedback. We sent the revised policy to all faculty members before discussing it at the next general faculty meeting; we also sent the proposal to the full nine-member academic policies body and to the provost for review. The faculty approved the policy pending changes they suggested and approval by the academic policies committee, the faculty senate, and the university’s legal counsel. Finally, we revised the policy according to faculty recommendations and received final approval for the policy in January 2006. The policy was put into effect in the 2007–08 student handbook.

What made our policy revision successful? In scholarly service, qualitative and quantitative analysis should be applied to the data gathered. Data can be thematically analyzed to identify directions for change. Our subcommittee applied such thematic analysis—a common technique in qualitative research—to the student grade grievance policy. After analysis, scholarly service provides outcomes, results of the service to the institution. Our project provided a product, the new grade grievance policy, intended to improve the academic lives of the students and faculty at the institution.

For scholarly service to become the scholarship of service, faculty must share their experiences and products with their colleagues by presenting their work at conferences and writing articles for publication. Our subcommittee presented its formative work at an international conference and is seeking publication of its work in a recognized, peer-reviewed journal. These two activities, presentation and publication, are at the core of the scholarship of service and combine the scholarship and service roles of faculty.

Reflecting on Mission

Saint Xavier’s vice president for mission and heritage, Sue Sanders, asked me in fall 2005 to be the first chair of the university’s committee on mission and heritage. The four other committee members and I spent our first several months on the committee reflecting on the ways in which we did and did not experience the identity and heritage of Saint Xavier as a Catholic institution that is sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy.

After reflecting on our experiences, we took up our first charge: to take stock of how members of our institution were experiencing the institution’s identity and heritage. We decided to run focus groups throughout the university community to assess the extent to which faculty, staff, and administrators had experienced Catholic identity and Mercy heritage.

We invited all departments and programs within the institution to contribute. The process we developed ensured the fullest participation possible. First, we invited each division to participate through a meeting with the division vice president. The division’s administration helped identify groups of five to seven participants for a focus group, and schedules and invitations to participate were sent to division employees with offers of administrative support for their voluntary involvement. Members of the mission and heritage committee facilitated and anonymously recorded the participant responses. Committee members then analyzed the focus group data, identified themes with supporting evidence in the data, and wrote reports for each division. After the mission and heritage committee approved them, the reports and cover letters were sent to the vice presidents. Finally, Sue Sanders and two of the committee members met with each vice president to review the reports.

After two years, the committee was expanded to include nine faculty and staff members and a new chair was assigned. In May 2008, I presented the committee’s work at the Carlow Round Table at Carlow College in Ireland with Pamela Klick, a mission and heritage committee member and faculty colleague from the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. In June, we joined other committee members to present a paper at the Conference for Mercy Higher Education at Georgian Court University. Both of these presentations will be published in the proceedings for the meetings, and our work is currently under consideration by a peer-reviewed journal.

The mission and heritage committee’s accomplishments illustrate how scholarly service can provide the space and time to contemplate and design research methodologies. Before determining the methodology of inquiry for the assessment, we reflected on how we had experienced our identity and heritage. This reflection led us to believe that each member of the university community would benefit from doing as we had done. We held approximately sixty focus groups, involving a total of about 380 participants from across campus, and used the same process each time a focus group was conducted. As with the student grade grievance policy revision, data were thematically analyzed to provide direction for change.

Such scholarly service can be replicated in future initiatives if notes, minutes, and other documents are kept to provide the historical description of the service. If individuals at another institution wished to pursue a similar research project, we could provide them with ample evidence and documentation. Finally, because scholarly service is outcome-based, institutions benefit from the results of the service. Our mission and heritage project provided reports to each division so that the division leaders could consider and implement changes based upon the data.

Share the Knowledge

Scholarly service involves the same critical and reflective components that faculty apply to teaching, learning, and scholarship. To the extent that faculty make presentations about and publish studies of scholarly service, they are producing the scholarship of service.

I have yet to engage in scholarly service that has not taken a significant amount of time, but the work has always been gratifying and rewarding. When scholarly service is extended to the scholarship of service, the time invested bears fruit that supports and enriches the academy and the academic who pursued it.

E. Suzanne Lee is an associate professor in the School of Education at Saint Xavier University. Her e-mail address is [email protected].