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Prestige culture and community-based faculty work

Alan H Bloomgarden, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Higher education has been repeatedly challenged to renew American "social capital" (Putnam, 1995), and revitalize communities. Amidst the flurry of "civic engagement" initiatives in higher education, prestigious and well-resourced institutions have been comparatively less involved. Their incorporation of civic challenges into curricular and research priorities has been slow and limited. Community-based teaching and research are models of scholarship that respond to these challenges, but these models face slow uptake in the settings that can potentially put them to the most influential and transformative use. This study sought to understand how the "scholarship of engagement" (Boyer, 1996) is viewed and pursued within highly selective, prestige-oriented liberal arts colleges. Faculty and institutional culture, specifically local views about the value and role of community work in scholarly efforts, may shape obstacles and opportunities for higher education-community partnership. Case studies include interview data from "triads" centered upon 15 faculty members whose civic work makes them exceptional within their institutions, contextualized by interviews with at least one colleague and one community partner each. Interviews with 61 participants in 7 college campus communities supplemented documentary evidence of engaged scholarship including publications, papers, syllabi, institutional and program materials. Comparative and discourse analyses investigated prestige orientation and views about community-based practice in local discourse. This research found barriers to pursuing engaged scholarly work to include challenges to academic rigor, and challenges to activities appearing to compete with scholarly productivity. Engaged faculty scholars devised responses to these conditions and pursued personal strategies to implement engaged projects. These included: aligning "engaged" with "liberal" learning aims; intentionally integrating or compartmentalizing "engaged" and "traditional" scholarly activities; and positioning engaged projects as "having rigor" by emphasizing research. Participants' models of community-based work provide clues to possible, productive community engagement strategies in prestige-oriented settings. This study also found and described elements of an "economy of prestige" that work collectively to shape conditions for community-based scholarly work. This dissertation further interrogates a paradox that appears to exist, between a rhetorical embrace of civic engagement on campuses with significant resources, and initiatives that remain atomized, confined, and often having only marginal impact on local academic culture.

Subject Area

Higher education

Recommended Citation

Bloomgarden, Alan H, "Prestige culture and community-based faculty work" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3336986.