Public engagement round-up: gimme your two cents, willya?

cowgirlropeknotsInspired by a comment by Matt L. on the previous post, I suggested that the relatively newly institutionalized requirement for faculty to show evidence of “public engagement” was a good thing, although as usual I’m skeptical that it’s something that we’ll have to do on our own time and our own dimes, like most of the rest of the “service” requirement in our annual faculty evaluations.  But is this an expectation that the rest of you are held to, or is it just something that’s happening at my Morrill Land Grant Aggie school, where public engagement was part of the mission statement going back in 1870?

So I want to collect some evidence on the question of public engagement.  If you would, in the comments tell me

  1. What kind of institution you serve
  2. What sujbect/s you teach
  3. Whether public engagement is an expectation in your department, and
  4. What specific activities count as public engagement

In my response to Matt, I listed just three of the things I’m more familiar with as public engagement:  “do one or two public lectures a year, or sit on a local preservation or planning board, or say ‘yes’ when a fraternity or sorority asks us to talk to them about an issue.”  I just listed two things that I’ve done in the past, and another that I know my colleagues in public history do.  (As an early Americanist, I get asked to speak to genealogical societies every couple of years, and as a women’s historian and a historian who teaches and writes about race, I am most years asked to do something for African American History month in February and women’s history month in March.)

I’m sure that the rest of you can offer a much more creative and comprehensive list, so for our junior colleagues and for those of you who are possibly facing this category of public engagement for the first time in your careers, leave a comment and help out!  Even if public engagement doesn’t “count” very much for our individual advancement, it probably “counts” a lot more in terms of raising public awareness of faculty in the humanities and the real-world value of the work we do.

16 thoughts on “Public engagement round-up: gimme your two cents, willya?

  1. I’m an English professor at a small state university, and public engagement is not a regular expectation (although the university claims community engagement via service learning is an institutional priority, that work is not quite recognized in all our promotion and tenure standards). That said, one of my colleagues is president of our state humanities council; some lead book groups for various local initiatives–like our “Mayor’s Book Group” program. Something like that would be counted under “service” in an annual report.


  2. 1 Public R1
    2 Econ
    3 Yes, as service. (People who are exceeding research expectations are encouraged to do it, untenured people who aren’t are told to cut it out and focus on academic publications.)
    4 They’re big on media citations (especially NYTimes, WSJ, NPR, PBS etc., also especially the big city newspapers in our own state), also op-eds and interviews. They like policy briefs, though not as much. One explanation is this constant fight to keep state legislators thinking that what the faculty do besides teach is relevant. We do not get credit for sitting on public boards but would get credit for state appointments or presidential appointments. We are strongly encouraged to help out people from the state government when they call about policy issues.


  3. I teach modern European history at a regional comprehensive university in the upper Midwest. Our teaching load is substantial (4/4) but we are also expected to do some sort of service. The nice thing about our service expectations is that it includes both the university and the wider community. So public engagement is optional, but if you engage the broader public it is considered part of the job and counts for tenure and promotion.

    Some of the things I have done as part of this service:
    History Day – I’ve been both a judge at the regional history day event hosted at our university and also been interviewed by students at the Middle School and High School level.
    Given public talks as part a university wide speakers series that were aimed at students and the general public. Examples of my talks include: the history of student loans, Polar exploration and the origins of the International Geophysical Year, Assessment and the History major at our university.

    My colleagues have done the following:
    Two colleagues have served on the board of directors for the local county historical society and the local ethnic history museum.
    Given public talks to the chamber of commerce on Presidents Day or other national holidays.
    Several colleagues have served on the local human rights committee and the Women’s Resource Center.


  4. Regional comprehensive public university. We don’t have “annual faculty evaluations.” Five years of annual re-appointment reviews, focused overwhelmingly on teaching, then a review for tenure, then a post-tenure exercise every five years. I don’t know what “counts” for what. On the research side, we all but just make it up for people if it’s not there in the natural course of things, i.e.. if that’s not what they “do.” Service that is valued seems to be mostly internal institutional committee work. Some people do external things, but it’s not much noticed or spoken of, internally, and hard to categorize. I drove over to the nearest metropolis once for a “celebration of reading and authorship” at a suburban middle school. I thought I was going to just talk informally about my book, but ended up teaching five consecutive 40-minute “periods,” plus another one after lunch! I’ve consulted with authors of popular history works, mostly for juvenile audiences. History Day judging whenever I can, and this year, advising two smart students in a school district on the other side of the continent! Media stuff in general, including mostly back office consultation with editors and programmers, but occasional talking head things. A lot of programmed seminars for secondary school teachers, some of them amazingly ambitious. I’d actually rather not have this kind of thing “count” as “service,” bureaucratically, because then it feels less like service and more like just keeping your brain alive and getting to know interesting people in other parts of the forest.


  5. Regional comprehensive public university, Moo Moo U, in the History Department. Public engagement would be considered part of service, and can mean a variety of things. Some of my colleagues have served on the state historic preservation board and with the state’s humanities council. Others are tapped for t.v. and radio interviews. I’ve most consistently participated in History Day and with an extension program for lifelong learners.


  6. 1. R1 Private

    2. American Studies/American History/African American Studies

    3. Yes. My department coordinates a “Public Humanities” MA program, and that might considered the more heavily theorized (and artsy) end of the spectrum of engaged activities. Beyond that, the university expects its faculty to be visible and in the public eye on a regular basis. These things matter at tenure time and promotion time. We count public humanities work as research and not as service.

    4. Within the department, a vast range of things – from high school student art workshops to digital magazines to blogging to film series run through the local library. Just this year, one of our faculty launched this cool project. ( Within the university, the notion of “public engagement” narrows just slightly, with preference given to major magazine articles and op-eds in internationally prominent venues.


  7. History, public regional HBCU. The faculty contract says that “community service involvement” is 5% of tenure evaluation. That isn’t specifically defined, but it’s been interpreted very broadly, to include almost anything that’s related to your field and in the community.


  8. Thanks for running this post, Ann. It comes at a good time for me as I get ready for my first annual re-appointment process on the tenure track (which sounds miserable, but makes for a very high-information tenure process at the end of the track). So I don’t have the perspective of having gone through tenure in answering your questions, but:

    1. Regional comprehensive
    2. History
    3. Yes, probably
    4. It’s complicated! There are two ways in which public engagement can count:

    First, the union contract that governs includes a category of review for which one option is “public service.” (If anyone’s curious, the appendix is available here.

    Second, though, because our university is teaching-focused, the definition of scholarship is very broad and includes “contributions to the content of the discipline.” In other words, I’m very likely to count the work I do blogging for the Junto and my other various online engagements with the public as scholarship rather than service (which I would be likely to do elsewhere as I rarely blog directly about my research).

    That said, the definitions are very loose (for now), and I’m in a small minority of faculty on my campus who engage publicly in the way that I do. (Lots of people do local library/society talks, that is, but few blog, write op-eds, or engage in other, similar activities.)


  9. As with so many “cool ideas” at the community college, the fly in the ointment is: who decides? The requirement for public engagement can become just one more way for the administration to try to control the (already severely limited) time of teachers.

    Nobody but a teacher knows how much time it takes to grade a paper, and grade it well. Administrators soon forget.


  10. I teach at a regional public comprehensive in history/gender studies. Public engagement is definitely expected. Service is 12.5% of our official workload in terms of what we have to report to the state (75% is teaching), but counts for 1/3 of our annual evaluations (we are ranked on whether we “meet”, “do not meet” or “exceed” expectations in the fields of teaching, research and service each year and this is linked to merit pay.) Service is mostly interpreted for this purpose as being committee work, but public outreach can substitute/supplement, and is a real plus for promotion and tenure. This can include serving on boards of local institutions (museums, historical societies etc); giving talks to community groups; doing media work (including op-eds, serving as a consultant for documentaries, being a talking head, giving quotes for news articles); as well as giving talks to student groups on campus. There is also increasing interest in community-based research that explores questions in collaboration with or on behalf of community partners, although this doesn’t at present rate as highly as more “traditional” research that follows conventional disciplinary norms. We are also strongly encouraged to integrate service-learning into our courses, and doing this helps you “exceed” your expectations in teaching.


  11. Public R1, literary studies. Because of the field, we probably get fewer “public engagement” requests than History or American Studies, and I’m not sure how much they count. If I’m asked to give a talk to a local group, I do it/have done it several times, but in terms of actively contacting museums, etc.–I haven’t done that.


  12. R1 Public. Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies revised our T & P guidelines so that they include publically-engaged scholarship and art AS SCHOLARSHIP AND ART (not service). Publically-engaged teaching “counts” under teaching, unless it is also related to scholarship.


  13. Small liberal arts college in the northeast. The college encourages community service as well as in-college stuff; it counts in our annual evaluations as well as tenure and promotion. As a historian of the USSR and the modern Middle East, I frequently pair with political scientists for public talks on hot events of the day. I have also led book discussion groups at local libraries and done brief local TV interviews. I really enjoy interacting with people who are older than 22! I also think that it is vital for us get out and talk to the public about what we do in this time of hostility toward the liberal arts.


  14. 1. Public PhD granting
    2. early America
    3. Our university is recently putting a big push on for more public engagement in research, teaching, and service, but it’s not clear at all how this is going to count for any kind of evaluation except that it’s already being used as a budget stick. Twitter, newspaper/magazine writing, and blogging are all actively discouraged as forms of engagement.
    4. Public talks, courses with service learning and community board membership seem to be what most people in the humanities do. I work on the history of my uni’s city, so I mostly do talks and museum stuff.


  15. I haven’t been over here in an age! But I can comment on this! Regional Comprehensive, English, but public engagement (once known as civic engagement at my institution) has been HUGE at my institution since I arrived in 2003. It can count as service, but it can also be “scholarship of engagement” – if you do publications coming out of your public service, or if you write grants (whether funded or not, though obviously the goal is ultimately to be funded) to support public engagement – or “teaching of engagement” – if you teach a course that has a public service component. So, here are some examples:
    1. talks/book discussion leads at local libraries or to local community groups. (service)
    2. being interviewed on radio or tv or by newspapers about our areas of expertise. (service)
    3. teaching courses with a service-learning component (this tends to happen in writing courses and in general education courses across disciplines). (teaching)
    4. outreach activities like “read-a-thons” of classic literature. (service)
    5. P-12 outreach activities. (service)
    6. Grant-writing (like the Humanities in the Public Square grant from the NEH) (scholarship)
    7. Publication about outreach activities (scholarship)

    Those are just the immediate things that come to mind. Basically, everything that connects to your discipline “counts” as long as it directly addresses a general audience (which could be P-12, senior citizens, or the community at large), whether it occurs on campus or off-site or some mix of the two. So no, serving at a soup kitchen does not count at the time of performance review, but going to a community center to give a talk would.

    Basically, I think that what my institution hopes for is that every department will have “public engagement” in all three categories in some form, but there is not an expectation that everyone have something in every category. So, for example, my public engagement has tended to fall under “service,” but I’ve got colleagues who just have it under “teaching,” and other colleagues whose scholarly agendas reflect the “public engagement” mission. And since I specialize in British literature, the likelihood of me doing things beyond the occasional talk is probably unlikely. But basically, everybody should have SOMETHING that connects to this part of our mission, but it is not necessary for each individual to do it all, or even do public engagement all the time, though it is clear that doing public engagement stuff is more highly valued than doing, say, department service, as evidenced by the fact that there is MONEY to be had for these activities (university-wide and from the individual colleges).

    Finally, not only does this get “counted” in annual performance reviews: it is part of what is outlined in the faculty handbook as counting toward tenure and promotion. In other words, not only is this stuff “expected” – it is explicitly valued not only within departments but all the way up to the provost.


  16. 1. R1 Public
    2. History
    3. No formal expectation, but increasing numbers of brownie points for those who do it. And internal money increasingly tied to either “collaborative” or “public engagement” criteria.
    4. Unclear. Lots of digital projects going up, various things with local civic groups, etc.

    The idea of public engagement is great, if that’s what energizes you intellectually, but I have a couple of problems with the institutional expectation of public engagement: A) Isn’t providing an excellent, relatively low-cost education to the young people of the state already a pretty important form of public engagement? B) Working with local groups is much easier for people in certain fields than others (notably, those who study the USofA and white people in the USofA), and perhaps people who do certain kinds of history over others. C) No other expectations are being reduced to make room for this new expectation—it’s not replacing traditional scholarship, except in a few, specific cases, and it’s not replacing institutional service. So basically, they’re saying either do more work for free, or volunteer in the name of the university in your leisure time instead of whatever else you were planning to do with your Saturdays.


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