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Publicly Engaged Scholars: Next-Generation Engagement and the Future of Higher Education

reviewed by Gina Mariano - October 02, 2017

coverTitle: Publicly Engaged Scholars: Next-Generation Engagement and the Future of Higher Education
Author(s): Margaret A. Post, Elaine Ward, Nicholas V. Longo, & John Saltmarsh (Eds.)
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620362643, Pages: 312, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

Higher education is in a current state of flux. In many ways, it is struggling. It strives to be socially and academically relevant, yet also wants to cling to tradition. Constant changes have become the norm: declining tenure positions, escalating tuition, more demand for online courses and increasing class sizes are all contributing to the changing environment of higher education. However, despite these challenges, many scholars are taking a step back to re-focus on the purpose of higher education. The role of higher education in communities and as part of our democracy has emerged as the new focus of conversation, and areas of social justice, civic duty, and global engagement are receiving extensive attention.

Higher education institutions have always held an important role in society: to further educate the public and encourage their communities to prosper with the talents of their students and alumni. Somewhere along the way, however, this focus on engagement within communities has decreased and a distance has been created. Universities have increasingly separated from the communities they’re meant to serve, and thus student and faculty community engagement has decreased. The notion of ivory tower ideas tbeing inapplicable or irrelevant to the real world began to develop and further separate communities from their universities. This is the foundation for the book Publicly Engaged Scholars, which discusses how faculty are working to bring communities and universities together to support one another, while encouraging students to be active members of their communities.

Communities often feel distant from universities. Faculty members have begun to understand the need for collaboration and community relationships to help achieve common goals. Students desire authentic experiences, not mere textbook reading and theories, but actual application of these theories. Many faculty are seeking the renewal of civic purpose and trying to not only build research agendas that support their interests, but also to incorporate ideas of civic purpose into their research. Encouraging student participation in experiential learning is on the rise, not only because it can help give students the authentic experiences they crave, but also help build university-community relationships and partnerships. Faculty can see their research positively impacting communities, and students can be part of the experience.

The book highlights faculty narratives of their experiences working to build university-community relationships, either through their research or outreach programs. It also discusses specific programs in depth and gives much detail on the challenges each faculty member encountered along the way as they navigated this new territory. The achievements of each program are also described, as well as where the program hopes to go in the future.

There have been many difficulties faced by faculty who want to focus on community engagement; this subject has not been written into the tenure and promotion guidelines at many universities. Some faculty have felt pressure to choose between focusing on a more traditional path of tier-one journals and grant writing as opposed to spending more time on community engagement. There is a strong desire from faculty to evolve the current tenure and promotion standards to reflect the changing higher education climate, which values community engagement to a higher degree.

There are also changes among the student body, where students are asking for more experiential learning opportunities and faculty are seeking to provide students with more experiences outside of the classroom. The field of education has always placed pre-service teachers in classrooms and provided them with mentoring and required observation hours, but this is a new endeavor for most majors. There are many challenges to building these opportunities into a program and the authors discuss these challenges and how to overcome them. The authors suggest several ideas universities can implement to better support experiential learning opportunities.  

Many suggestions for action appear throughout the book. The authors make the case that a higher education institution can and should better support the faculty members who want to focus on community engagement. Students also want to make a difference, and if we as a higher education community, cultivate this desire and energy, then both higher education and communities will benefit. Both students and faculty are also interested in becoming more globally engaged. Universities can support this movement by better supporting curriculum redesign and evolving the promotion guidelines to reflect these endeavors for faculty.

There were many narratives throughout the book, however, and sometimes it was difficult to grasp the relation between them. Towards the end of the book, the authors do try to wrap up and bring numerous stories together, but it would have been beneficial to the reader to have this information earlier. Each narrative gave the author a chance to talk about their career path or their current positions, and it was often easy to get lost in the details or the search for a common theme. It is up to reader to remind him or herself to look at the big picture and how this story connects to others.


This book has many implications for the structure and practice of higher education, and the authors call on community partners to help participate in research agendas. There is no longer room for curriculum decisions made in the isolation of one department alone. Tenure and promotion decisions must grow and change to allow for a new set of guidelines to better support faculty engagement. Also crucial is a greater acceptance of community and practitioner publications, instead of focusing only on first tier journals. The addition of community participation in curriculum development can not only build partnerships within the community, but also continue education beyond the classroom by providing real experiences to students. Also, allowing community members to coauthor research can likewise increase the number of people who have access to research outcomes and data.

Overall, this book truly makes the case for the importance of community engagement in higher education and the important role faculty play in shifting its current focus. Many of the changes discussed in the book can be positive for students, faculty, and communities if we embrace them.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 02, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22172, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 2:20:07 AM

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About the Author
  • Gina Mariano
    Troy University
    E-mail Author
    GINA MARIANO is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Troy University. She is the coordinator of the research minor program within the department of psychology. Her research interests include student learning as it relates to metacognition and knowledge transfer in higher education settings. Her research also examines faculty development among university instructors in these areas and the impact on student learning.
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