Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Beyond Boyer's 'Scholarship Reconsidered': Fundamental Change in the University and the Socioeconomic Systems

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Beyond Boyer's 'Scholarship Reconsidered': Fundamental Change in the University and the Socioeconomic Systems

Article excerpt

The task for a modern industrial society is to achieve . . . a society which is really based on free voluntary participation of people who produce and create, live their lives freely within institutions they control, and with limited hierarchical structures, possibly none at all.

Noam Chomsky


There is considerable debate over the meaning of scholarship with much of the impetus coming recently from Boyer's Scholarship Reconsidered. Boyer's (1990) challenge to himself was "to define the work of faculty in ways that enrich, rather than restrict, the quality of campus life" (p. 1). He suggested that "[at] the very heart of the current debate - the single concern around which all others pivot - is the issue of faculty time. What is really being called into question is the reward system and the key issue is this: what activities of the professoriate are most highly prized?" (p. xi).

In this article we argue that, despite Boyer's well-intentioned efforts to foster debate and discussion about scholarship, his analysis fails largely because he ignores the socioeconomic context of universities and the purposes universities have historically served. Boyer (1990) never fully addresses the questions "most highly prized by whom?" and "most highly prized for what?" Nor has he identified the most salient issue concerning change - the organizational (social) structure of the university itself.

Boyer assumes the reward system to be a necessary part of scholarship. He and others in education have ignored almost thirty years of research and theory which show that rewards (and punishment) are more closely connected to the control of others than to an increase in quality of instruction and research. As such, rewards of this type have deleterious impact upon things putatively valued in education, including production, self-actualization, and intrinsic motivation. Without denying the importance of "acknowledgment" and economic security, we take the opposite view and suggest that rewards support the structures of domination. It is these authoritarian structures themselves which put restriction on scholarship and therefore are in need of change. Although we use the important work of Boyer as impetus for this discussion, this article is aimed less specifically at Boyer, except to provide contrast. Rather, it is more of a general prolegomenon pointing toward an alternative approach to bring about needed changes in the university.

Our harsh criticisms of Boyer notwithstanding, we are sympathetic to some of his aims. However, the reward system Boyer emphasizes is, at least partly, the result of a belief in the need for external control. By contrast, we emphasize intrinsic motivation of learning and teaching facilitated by students and faculty having real choices - real academic freedom, and real socioeconomic security - as a more appropriate manner of facilitating scholarship.

In order to address these broader issues we begin with a brief description of our general systems theory approach and the conceptual model derived from it. We suggest that the three elements of goals, context (social structures), and system attributes interact mutually and reciprocally to determine the functional outcomes and patterns of behavior of any open complex system. We then apply this conceptual model in an examination and critique of two contrasting organizational styles, namely, authoritarian (hierarchy) and participatory democracy (heterarchy). To make our case, we attempt to present an encompassing picture by weaving in numerous theoretical threads. But to do so within a limited space requires a sacrifice of some details. However, many of these details are presented elsewhere in the many references we provide.

Our analysis of U.S. universities derives mainly from general systems theory (Bailey, 1994; Chase-Dunn, 1989; T. S. Smith, 1992). In explaining a complex system, an attempt is made to identify qualitative features of complex systems in order to capture the underlying dynamics. …

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