Academic assessment is predisposed towards measurement and subsequently valuing what can be measured. In this post, Cara Cilano, Sonja Fritzsche, Bill Hart-Davidson and Christopher P. Long, describe the Cultivating Pathways of Intellectual Leadership” (CPIL) framework developed in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University and how it can help to stimulate a values-enacted model of academic achievement.
This post is part of the Accelerated Academy series, you can find all the posts in the series here.
In her book Staying with the Trouble, Donna Haraway gestures to how we might learn new ways of “being together”, of saying “we”, and of “making with” in responding to our current epoch of ecological devastation. Now, as we face the challenges of a global pandemic the imperative to stay with the trouble in ways that open more just and sustainable modes of being together grows more urgent. In the College of Arts & Letters Dean’s office at Michigan State University, we are putting this imperative at the heart of our work in higher education.
For the four of us, transformative change in higher education requires nurturing intertwined practices of making-with and empowering innovative ways of being together, rather than retreating to the more comfortably rewarded “self-making” that stakes out the territory of “I” within a highly corrosive competitive landscape. We believe this can at once create a more fulfilling and supportive culture in higher education and elevate the quality of our work across the institutional mission areas of teaching and learning, scholarship and creative activity, outreach and engagement. To facilitate this transformation and the elevation of quality that comes with it, we have developed a framework we call “Cultivating Pathways of Intellectual Leadership” (CPIL). It is designed to empower members of the academic community through a values-enacted, narrative-driven, self-reflective process to imagine the contributions they hope to make over the course of their careers.
The model here is meant, first and foremost, to present multiple pathways for successful careers. In the center of the diagram is the large circle that represents a horizon – an abstract but realizable state called “intellectual leadership”. Perhaps the most radical aspect of this model is the idea that everyone – from the groundskeeper to the lab scientist to the principal bassoonist – can chart a path to intellectual leadership, because, it is in the DNA of public research universities to value learning, creativity, and ideas. Universities have flaws, but one of their shining strengths is the way learning and sharing knowledge are valued. And this is broadly understood to be our purpose by both those folks who work at the University, as well as those citizens of Michigan (and their families), who entrust their education to us.
The semi-transparent circles in the diagram are the ends toward which we work, they are the primary narrative drivers in those career stories we mentioned earlier: Sharing Knowledge, Expanding Opportunity, and Mentorship & Stewardship. These are the things that “count” when we add up the accomplishments of a career. If you do them well, you will be recognized as an intellectual leader. Notice that this does not limit or establish a hierarchy for how such leadership manifests: leadership shows itself across our mission areas of research and scholarship, teaching and learning, outreach and engagement, service and stewardship. Indeed, the higher standard of academic quality we hope to cultivate involves an integrated combination of them all.
This shift opens new opportunities to recognize and reward a wider variety of activities as contributing to the core mission of the university.
By empowering colleagues to identify the core values that animate their work, and providing them with a structure that can value this work in a variety of forms, we’ve had to reimagine the tenure and promotion process in the College by shifting its focus from means (teaching, research, service) to ends (sharing knowledge, expanding opportunity, mentorship and stewardship). This shift opens new opportunities to recognize and reward a wider variety of activities as contributing to the core mission of the university. Sharing knowledge happens in many ways, through a published article in a peer reviewed journal, by writing for a broad public audience, through excellent teaching or leading a workshop at a local school, or by providing helpful feedback in the review of a monograph, to name just a few. Similarly, one might expand opportunity through participatory research, effective mentoring, creating internships, or writing compelling recommendations for a job or graduate school. This model also recognizes activities associated with mentoring and stewardship that are too often overlooked. Our approach has the potential to disrupt an impoverished understanding of scholarship limited to a restrictive range of outputs that reinforce exclusionary structures of power and regressive modes of production.
The prospecting practices of Academia.edu, ResearchGate, and Academic Analytics reinforce precisely such an impoverished conception of scholarship. The data they collect and ‘insights’ they provide foster an “analytics mindset” and obsession with self-branding. Academic Analytics, for its part, mines a “mother lode” of scholarly data independent of input from the scholars themselves, and presents this data to institutions of higher education in ways that represent, repackage, and reduce the quality of scholarly merit primarily to the quantity of scholarship produced. This data- and metrics-driven framework enables inter-institutional competition that has helped to create a toxic culture of self-interest and prestige.
By contrast CPIL is rooted in an academic ecology that recognizes the career progression of scholars over time sustained in the context of actions that shape more generous and responsible intellectual communities. The model takes a values-enacted approach, influenced by the historic mission of the university and the notion that the most innovative scholarship and pedagogy result from the flourishing of a broad diversity of perspectives in conversation with each other. The CPIL model enacts our commitment to the core values of equity, reciprocity, transparency, and creativity. We hope this will empower scholars to reflect upon their values, identify purposeful goals, and undertake fulfilling work.
Repairing the higher education ecosystem involves recognizing our inherent interdependence, the strength of collective wisdom, and our reliance on each other in seen and unseen ways. The College has fostered intentional formal and informal mentoring to promote interconnections that are open and sustaining, and critical in a crisis. Mentoring opportunities for all faculty and staff promote institutional justice through equal access to knowledge and guidance.
Scaling the CPIL model to the unit level we have emphasized how its values-enacted approach is not meant to be a repurposed attempt to maximize individual efficiency, or to perpetuate a zero-sum competition for resources and rewards amongst unit members. Rather, as the basis for a unit’s policies and practices, the CPIL model encourages greater engagement in the success of colleagues, a continual recommitment to our work in the classroom, and a genuine stake in the unit’s mission within the university’s larger structure.
The Department of English at Michigan State University used the CPIL model as it undertook a wholesale revisioning of their bylaws, which include review promotion, tenure and merit review criteria and processes. Several interwoven internal and external factors, including the successful recruitment of a significant number of faculty of color at the assistant professor level, the hiring of an external chair, and the sexual assault scandal that engulfed the university, created the conditions for this endeavor. In the aggregate, our contribution to this work highlighted a toxic environment in the department and its inequitable manifestations. As this recognition grew, colleagues were willing to do that hard work of imagining anew what our relations could be.
This approach to higher education transformation is rooted in the work of the Mellon-funded HuMetricsHSS initiative which seeks to create and support a values-based framework for understanding and evaluating all aspects of the scholarly life well-lived and for promoting the nurturing of these values in scholarly practice. The CPIL model offers structured ways to empower all members of the academic community to “stay with the trouble” of being together in ways that deepen our understanding of the world and create more just, fulfilling, and sustainable relationships.
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