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Disciplinary Variations in Publicly Engaged Scholarship

Fifteen years after Diamond and Adam’s The Disciplines Speak I and II and the Service Learning in the Disciplines series raised awareness about how different disciplines define scholarship, institutional leaders continue to describe and support outreach and engagement in a “one-size-fits-all” manner.

While there is anecdotal evidence of disciplinary differences, this study’s goal was to examine those variations empirically. Researchers with MSU’s National Collaborative for the Study of University Engagement conducted an interpretive content analysis of 172 faculty members’ promotion and tenure forms from Michigan State University, a research-intensive, land-grant, Carnegie-engaged institution in the Mid-west. Analysis focused on identifying patterns in the data related to the disciplines, making use of Anthony Biglan’s Classification of Academic Disciplines as the theoretical framework, which categorizes disciplines by three dimensions: pure/applied, hard/soft, and life/non-life. The Biglan Classification was used to examine three dimensions of faculty members’ community engaged scholarship: types of scholarship, intensity of activity, and degree of engagement.

Descriptive statistics revealed statistically significant findings about disciplinary variations. Faculty members in:

  • Applied and life disciplines were more likely to report community engaged scholarship than their colleagues in pure and non-life disciplines.
  • Hard disciplines were more likely to report some kinds of community engaged scholarship, while faculty members in soft disciplines were more likely to report other types of community engaged scholarship.
  • Applied and life disciplines were more likely to report higher intensities of activity.
  • Life disciplines were more likely to report higher degrees of engagement.

These significant disciplinary variations provide evidence for moving beyond the monolithic approaches to institutional policy and faculty support. 


Diane Doberneck

Director for Faculty and Professional Development, Office for Public Engagement and Scholarship
Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Community Sustainability

Office for Public Engagement and Scholarship