Yesterday the tenured members of the faculty convened to discuss the changing context for academic research. Our scholar teachers have been shaping the fields in which they work while responding to new methodologies, to blurred disciplinary boundaries, to expanded modes of dissemination, and to reduced expectations for funding in certain fields. There was talk about the rise in co-authored articles and the demise of the monograph in some academic areas. For some, this altered landscape contains many opportunities for enhanced faculty-student collaborative research and for more integrative work. “Translational” research work that connects basic inquiry to problems in society or public culture is increasingly popular in many fields across the curriculum. Scholars are using blogs, exhibitions, performances and community partnerships to make their work more widely known, and the feedback they receive in turn influences their future scholarship.
One of the great challenges facing academic institutions today is how to assess advanced scholarship and artistic work in this changing landscape. Our faculty have been thoughtful about facilitating work that makes a positive impact on a field through unconventional channels. At Wesleyan scientists routinely cross disciplinary borders to pursue questions, economists work on climate change, literature professors work on history and political scientists work on economics. Artistic production here often involves significant investment in research, and performances stimulate inquiry.
I was encouraged to listen to Wesleyan professors think together about how to deepen their research activity while also expanding its reach. We believe that this scholarship makes for better teachers and more opportunities for students to learn by becoming active practitioners themselves. Together we create new knowledge at Wesleyan, and we also find new ways to maximize the impact of that knowledge. Through all the changes in our cultural landscape, the scholar-teacher model continues to thrive.