Important Carolina Initiative: Academic Plan and Engagement

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Chancellor Holden Thorp
Chancellor Holden Thorp

Two important and overlapping initiatives are getting underway at Carolina.  The first is the creation of a new academic plan, and the second is an initiative around innovation and entrepreneurship.  They are exciting and both align well with the work of the School.  This post will talk about the academic plan, and my next one will talk about the innovation initiative.

The campus is getting ready to write a new academic plan, which will be “a concrete to-do list that we will use to allocate time and resources and by which to measure ourselves.”  Chancellor Thorp has done a short video that explains the academic plan, and you can find it embedded in his blog post about “how knowledge creation & engaged scholarship can co-exist.”

The last academic plan (July 2003) had a section on engagement and Holden expresses his support for a similar section in the next academic plan.  His post discusses the relationship between the creation of knowledge and engaged scholarship.  While “creating and distributing knowledge will always be our primary activity,” Holden points out that we always have applied our knowledge to real-world problems.  “The idea of applied scholarship in the social realm at Carolina has had a storied history with Howard Odum, Gladys and Albert Coates, John Sanders, and—of course—Bill Friday.”  Holden also tracks the different ways we have described this work over time—“public service, engaged scholarship, extension, and now social entrepreneurship.”  He thinks “the reason we can’t seem to settle on a way to describe it is that we’re struggling to acknowledge the importance of applied work without backing away from our primary commitment to create and distribute knowledge.”

The distinction between creating and applying knowledge for the most part is a false one.  “There is no engaged scholarship without knowledge to apply, and hence, all scholarship is engaged scholarship.”  I agree in the sense that engaged scholarship depends on knowledge that somehow has to be created and evolve for engagement to be effective.  The School is unusual because we are so balanced in our focus on the creation and application of knowledge, which means that we place greater emphasis on application than most academic units.  By including engagement in the next academic plan, Holden doesn’t want “to send the message that increasing the influence of our scholarship reduces the importance of basic knowledge.”  That seems highly unlikely given the culture at Carolina and other research universities.  He wants the engagement focus of the academic plan to create “an environment where scholars and students can optimize the impact of their research and find avenues for applied scholarship when it makes sense.”

The School of Government always has been a leader in engaged scholarship (even when it was known by other names), which has never caused us to choose between creating knowledge and applying knowledge.  One of our enduring strengths has been our ability to bridge the gap between scholarship and practice.  The School’s mission fits squarely within the framework that Holden is describing as an important element of Carolina’s next academic plan.  The upcoming planning process offers an opportunity for us to provide leadership for the campus in navigating these issues.

2 thoughts on “Important Carolina Initiative: Academic Plan and Engagement

  1. I find it interesting that the University has a tendency to describe what we do using terms that are not particularly clear to the individuals and communities we are trying to serve. “Engaged Scholarship?” Does this really roll off anyone’s tongue when describing what we do?

  2. Without delving into the body of academic terms and theories surrounding “engagement,” I agree with your sentiment, Jeff – I think our campus, and the University as a whole, continues to struggle with the nomenclature that surrounds “engagement” or “applied scholarship.” I’ve run into this issue fairly consistently while working at General Administration, including in the context of UNC Tomorrow even as the work of UNCT affirmed the importance of “applied scholarship” and “public service.” I’ve tended to use the phrases “applied scholarship” and “public service” because they track the eloquent language in G.S. 116-1(b) that states the mission of The University of North Carolina:

    “That mission is to discover, create, transmit, and apply knowledge to address the needs of individuals and society. This mission is accomplished through instruction, which communicates the knowledge and values and imparts the skills necessary for individuals to lead responsible, productive, and personally satisfying lives; through research, scholarship, and creative activities, which advance knowledge and enhance the educational process; and through public service, which contributes to the solution of societal problems and enriches the quality of life in the State. Teaching and learning constitute the primary service that the university renders to society. Teaching, or instruction, is the primary responsibility of each of the constituent institutions. The relative importance of research and public service, which enhance teaching and learning, varies among the constituent institutions, depending on their overall missions. ”

    The SOG is viewed widely within the university system and across our state as the embodiment of “applied scholarship” and “public service.” Indeed, much of the language in The University’s enabling legislation appears to have been written with us directly in mind (given John Sander’s involvement, perhaps it was!). Yet despite our storied history and our current “poster child” status, the new academic plan could fundamentally impact our internal operations and our relationship with main campus. It wil be important to have the new academic plan fully recognize and value the kind of work we do so that the campus’ priorities, resource allocations and accountability measures accurately reflect, prioritize, measure and reward our work. If not, we could find ourselves placed low on campus priority lists for resource allocations (and convesely, high on the list for budget cuts), shut out of campus-initated opportunities for enhancement and expansion, measured “poorly” on accountability metrics, and our faculty negatively impacted in RPT reviews. I believe it critical to Carolina’s ability to continue to fulfill it’s statutory mission that the work of the SOG be placed high on the campus’ “To-Do” list under the new Academic Plan.

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