Defining the Scholarship of Engagement

By Steve Abel, Associate Provost for Engagement

Purdue’s tripartite mission includes discovery, learning and engagement. The criteria for tenure and promotion state that faculty members “should contribute to all mission areas appropriate to their position (in most cases, contributing to all three areas of discovery, learning and engagement), meeting minimum thresholds in each.”

Engagement is a significant contributor to our overall mission as a land-grant university, and yet it may well be the most misunderstood.

The question most often asked is: Are service and engagement the same? They are not. Service may be departmental, college, university or professionally based. It frequently includes participation in meetings, service on committees or editorial and review boards. Engagement means partnerships external to the University — these could be with communities, schools, government or industry. The hallmark of engagement is reciprocity and sharing. Something is gained for both the University and its partners. Contemporary engagement initiatives involve academic and stakeholder partners as equals, focused on shared decision-making to address relevant challenges resulting in change.

Often the scholarship of engagement occurs through publications in refereed journals within one’s professional discipline, but engagement scholarship may take many other forms. Evidence of the impact of engagement might be reflected in the enactment of related legislation, adoption of innovations, delivery of products/services, and/or widespread changes in professional practice. Engagement scholarship is frequently integrated with learning and discovery.

In September, the third annual System-wide Summit invited faculty and staff from all Purdue campuses to West Lafayette to share best practices. Prior to the event, faculty from the Purdue system were surveyed about the role of engagement in the promotion and tenure process as well as opportunities and obstacles associated with engagement at Purdue. Faculty who responded perceived the scholarship of engagement to be a risky basis for promotion and tenure. They indicated that recognition of the scholarship of engagement is variable across departments/schools/colleges and not well supported in some areas. Faculty readily acknowledged the significant benefits the scholarship of engagement brings to local, state, national, and international stakeholders; however, some felt it was insufficiently encouraged or supported, particularly among junior faculty.

These perceptions are likely reflected in promotion and tenure results in that relatively few faculty pursue promotion and tenure on the basis of the scholarship of engagement. From 2010 to 2014, just 17 West Lafayette faculty members were promoted and/or tenured based fully or partially on the scholarship of engagement. That number increased to 39 from 2014 to 2017. Although many of our peers believe Purdue to be the exemplar in faculty advancement based on the scholarship of engagement, opportunity exists for enhanced documentation and appreciation of engaged scholarship by Purdue faculty.

During the 2017-18 academic year, faculty and administrators will collaborate to enhance the understanding of the scholarship of engagement. The Office of Engagement will work to identify barriers for junior faculty and to better understand how the scholarship of engagement is assessed by senior faculty.

In the spirit of Ernest Boyer, who in 1990 challenged academicians to think differently about scholarship and broaden our acceptance of the scholarship of application, and Russell Edgerton (former president, American Association of Higher Education), who coined the phrase “engaged university” in 1994, Purdue is committed to the recognition and promotion of the scholarship of engagement at the highest level.

To learn more about Purdue’s resources supporting the scholarship of engagement, visit the Office of Engagement website or contact the office directly (

October 6, 2017

Purdue University, 610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-4600

© 2016-2017 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Copyright Complaints | Maintained by Office of the Provost

Trouble with this page? Disability-related accessibility issue? Please contact Office of The Provost at