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APLU Releases Roadmap for Advancing Publicly Engaged Scholarship

Seattle, WA – Seeking to spur the acceleration of publicly engaged research to help tackle vexing challenges facing communities across the globe, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today released Modernizing Scholarship for the Public Good: An Action Framework for Public Research Universities. The report includes concrete actions public research universities can take in eight key areas to support publicly engaged, equity-oriented, and publicly impactful scholars and scholarship. The APLU Office of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, University of Michigan, the Rita Allen Foundation, the Kavli Foundation, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund all provided support for this work.

“Public research universities have a distinguished history of working with stakeholders across sectors to advance discoveries, innovations, and engagement that push back the frontiers of knowledge and advance solutions to vexing problems,” said APLU President Mark Becker. “Today’s challenges are increasingly complex and require institutions to engage more deeply with their communities than ever before. The Modernizing Scholarship action framework provides institutions a critical roadmap for bolstering their publicly engaged research and impact.”

Drawing on the expertise and insights from stakeholders and public research university leaders from across the university, years of research, and a deep base of academic literature, APLU outlined eight areas for strategic action that universities can take to support publicly-engaged, equity-oriented and publicly impactful research to benefit society. 

The Action Framework outlines eight major overarching areas for strategic action by institutions to advance modern public research and scholarship: 

  1. Develop committed institutional leaders. Driving institutional change requires strong leadership. Creating professional development opportunities for the next generation of university leaders – especially leaders with backgrounds and identities that are underrepresented in the academy – requires developing supports, programming, and opportunities for future leaders and emerging scholars.
  2. Reform appointment, retention, tenure, and promotion practices. Faculty appointment and retention policies and practices represent a pivotal opportunity for universities to signal that they value scholarship and scholars who pursue publicly engaged or equity-oriented work. This area for strategic action focuses on the ways that faculty – including tenure-track, extension, fixed-term or contractual, research, curatorial, clinical, and other groups – are recruited, evaluated, promoted, and retained. 
  3. Invest in institutional structures and networks. Support structures and networks are key elements of infrastructure that enable scholars to connect with one another and with the communities that their universities serve. Creating or expanding new infrastructure for publicly engaged research – including physical, social, and digital infrastructures – signals institutional priorities and creates new mechanisms to support publicly engaged scholarship. 
  4. Establish stronger reporting structures at the institutional level. Tracking and reporting on outcomes and impacts are powerful mechanisms that enable institutions to set strategic goals, evaluate progress, and incentivize change as necessary. Most successful data and outcome tracking and reporting efforts exist in a unit structure that has a clear strategic charge and dedicated capacity for evaluation and assessment, usually in central university administration.
  5. Build capacity for engagement and equity work among faculty. Creating workshops, mentoring or training programs, speaker series, fellowships, and other mechanisms for professional development is an important strategy to signal institutional priorities and ensure scholars have the knowledge, skills, and mindsets needed to succeed.
  6. Launch and maintain catalytic funding programs. Providing catalytic funding opportunities can directly encourage more scholarly activity focused on a prioritized approach and/or content area for publicly engaged research. Efforts in this area are most effective when internal grant mechanisms have clear, defined priorities supporting under-valued scholarship, provide both financial and non-monetary resources, and are sustainably supported.
  7. Develop awards and programs to recognize and celebrate work. Creating and amplifying mechanisms for recognition and awards is a powerful tool to raise the visibility of institutional priorities and highlight exemplary work. This area of strategic action can take many shapes, including creating awards and prizes, fellowship programs, media highlights, publication outlets, and other approaches to celebration and awareness.
  8. Formalize curricular training and professional development opportunities for students. Early career scholars are eager for their work to have impact. Focusing on student training takes a long view towards strategic action, especially if it equips students with different skill sets and mindsets about scholarship and empowers them to act as leaders.

From addressing local economic hardship to promoting public health to mitigating climate change, the vexing challenges facing communities, regions, countries, and the world are increasingly complex. Public research universities are uniquely positioned to engage with communities to tackle these challenges through path-breaking research. 

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