Practically every institution of higher education cites some expectation for research, creative or scholarly achievement. But the meanings of these terms vary widely among disciplines and types of institutions.
For example, with respect to various types of disciplines, research achievement that would be of sufficient stature to warrant promotion within arts or humanities disciplines might not be considered scholarly, let alone “research,” within disciplines like engineering or science. Further, within the same discipline but among different types of institutions, research achievement that would be of sufficient stature to warrant promotion at a Carnegie Bal/SGC (balanced arts and sciences/professions, some graduate coexistence) or even an RU/H (research universities [high research activity]) type institution could be totally discounted if held to research expectations of a Carnegie RU/VH (research universities [very high research activity]) type institution. And finally, even within the same discipline at the same institution, anecdotal evidence demonstrates that junior faculty preparing to apply for tenure or promotion might have very different impressions of what research is as compared to their deans or senior faculty colleagues.
So if research connotes different meanings among various disciplines, types of institutions, and even different ranks within the same discipline, can there be any commonalities?
Yes, according to J. Douglas Toma in his paper “Positioning for Prestige in American Higher Education,” presented at the 2008 Conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. Toma stated that even though institutions might be vastly different in orientation, markets served and available resources, the approaches they use to measure forms of prestige — including stature of faculty research — are basically variations on a common theme, differing more in scale than type.
The notion of a scale of stature is also found in Thomas J. Tighe’s book, Who’s in Charge of America’s Research Universities? Here, Tighe sets forth the idea that, among the various Carnegie classifications, there is a continuum of institutions that can be described in terms of progressively higher levels of education offered, correlated with increasing emphasis on research and scholarship.
Like Tighe’s continuum of institutions, a hypothetical continuum of research, creative and scholarly achievement may likewise be described in terms of progressively higher levels of stature. It would begin with a threshold level, progressing to work being distinguished from other faculty at one’s institution, then distinguished among faculty at other institutions, and culminating in credentials that demonstrate one is recognized as an authority by peers in the field.
While it is not possible to list every conceivable research, creative or scholarly activity, and, of course, it is assumed that such a continuum would be fluid, with considerable crossover between stages, a hypothetical continuum could look something like the following:
So in the final analysis, research, creative and scholarly achievement all result from the same types of endeavor. And the stature of achievement resulting from these endeavors is relative to the discipline and the institution. Ultimately, it is the deans and review committees who determine when the stature of creative or scholarly achievement is sufficient to be considered research that warrants awarding tenure or promotion to the rank for which a faculty member is applying.