Political Science Department Statement on Scholarship


We believe it important to identify three foundational points on which the following standards and expectations rest

  1. We believe that every choice we make ultimately must be grounded in our commitment to the students we serve. We recognize that the connection between our actions and the learning that takes place at Luther College is not always clear. To give one obvious example, increased emphasis on publishing might seem to lessen one’s attention to teaching in the short run, but might in the long run improve the quality of teaching. Even more remote, publications might lead to a stronger reputation for the college that leads to talented students being accepted in the best graduate programs. Nevertheless, we never can forget that Luther’s mission must drive each policy we accept.
  2. We believe that our job (dare we say vocation) as faculty members involves more than transferring information and teaching skills to students. Probably more important is the way we model a kind of life. We believe it imperative that in our actions as professionals that we demonstrate the importance of seeking truth and striving for excellence in all one does. We disagree with the Dean’s proposition that one of our goals should be to model the scholarly life. We think it crucial that we model the good life, but we see the scholarly life as simply one vocational choice that is neither better nor worse than other vocations one might choose.
  3. The academy presumes that the good life is grounded in reflection and ideas. Camp counselors and athletic coaches teach much about truth and the commitment to excellence. There should be ongoing cooperation between the faculty and both coaches and the folks in student life because at the core we all are interested in the same goal: preparing students to live good lives. Nevertheless, the liberal academy is based on the premise that truth is a consequence of the free exchange of ideas and that idea—rather than emotions and feelings—will free us.

Forms of Scholarship

We continue to think it useful to work around the idea that there are three levels of scholarly engagement:

  1. Original thinking about political and other ideas that we share with a larger community.
  2. Formal conversation with other scholars.
  3. As recipients of knowledge in formal settings.
  • We agree that the highest form of scholarship is the formal writing or presentation of ideas that one publicly puts forward and that usually involves some kind of peer review.
    • We accept the traditional judgment that the presentation of a sustained, original argument, either in a book or in a scholarly article in a refereed journal, is the highest form of academic scholarship.
    • We see much value in the review essay that requires the reviewer to compare and contrast a number of books that share a theme. Not only does that thematic assessment require one to put one’s ideas and interpretations on the line but it also provides clear evidence of scholarly engagement.
    • Although the peer review of conference papers usually is limited to one’s prospectus, we believe that conference papers require significant scholarly engagement and require one to put one’s ideas in front of an audience of peers.
    • A fourth kind of scholarship is the essay prepared for a general audience. A lecture at the college or an essay in Agora would fit in this category.
    • The opinion piece that one might write for a newspaper or the commentary one might provide on the radio or television is another form of scholarship. In our discipline this contribution to discussion about public matters is important. Where it appears on a list depends on the nature of the writing.
    • Writing that reflects upon the nature of teaching is a form of scholarship that we value, especially when it has to do with the nature of our discipline. An essay that addresses the teaching of citizenship or the role of ideology in the classroom—both of which grow out of our understanding of politics and political science as a way of knowing the world—can be important pieces of scholarship.
    • An important kind of scholarship is the review of single works, whether in a journal or as a choice review. The analysis is never done in a vacuum, but rather requires a broad understanding of previous work in the area of the book being reviewed
  • A second way of being an active scholar is to participate in conversation with other scholars in the pursuit of truth.
    • Perhaps the most effective way of doing this in a formal, scholarly seminar. That participation almost always involves a selection process, results in a number of weeks of intensely focused conversation, and often requires written work that is presented to one’s fellow seminar members.
    • A particularly valuable form of this kind of conversation is collaborative research with a student. In our discipline, the best opportunity for this is in funded summer research.
    • Serving as a discussant on a conference/convention panel is a valuable form of scholarship because it engages the faculty member in conversation with other scholars and requires critical analysis.
    • There are occasional opportunities for short seminars. The seminars at the University of Chicago are an example, and over the years our professional organization occasionally has offered short courses. The Aspen Institute program in which the college participates would be another example. Each of these require one to do background reading; they allow one to engage in conversation with others, often from different disciplines; and they provide intellectual stimulation for the faculty member.
  • A third way of engaging in scholarship would be as the recipient of knowledge. That is, we see value in attending conferences where one is not presenting a paper but rather is listening and learning.

Forms of Peer Review

  1. The easiest form of peer review comes with the traditional writing in refereed scholarly journals. An article in one of the major regional journals, for example, would be rated more highly than an article in a smaller journal.
  2. A second form of peer review would be to get a judgment from an external reviewer regarding the totality of one’s scholarly production. The reviewer might be chosen by the candidate or it might be someone who has no personal knowledge of the candidate.
  3. We believe that the senior members of the department also are capable of making a judgment about the quality of scholarship. Although there is little overlap in our areas of expertise, we each know the discipline well enough that we can read and evaluate the work of a junior member.

Ways of Encouraging Colleagues to See a Connection Between Their Scholarship and Teaching

  1. The most obvious connection we see is when what we read and investigate for scholarship also becomes a part of our teaching. In some instances that means the faculty member is more knowledgeable about the material. Investigating and pursuing political knowledge for the purpose of enriching scholarship also enriches teaching, by providing not only lecture and discussion material but key themes and questions that help organize a course. Such scholarship can provide the tools of teaching such as books, articles and essays. In addition, the faculty member who can talk about his/her research as part of a larger point makes the point more alive and immediate, often resulting in teaching that is more exciting and engaging. It is a seamless web in many ways.
  2. The process of scholarship—asking questions, pursuing answers, including dead ends—brings a teacher more in touch with the forms of scholarship we expect of our students and the frustrations they experience trying to put projects together
  3. A third way of making this connection is in the teaching of junior/senior seminars and doing independent studies and directed readings with students. Often those teaching situations will allow faculty members to bring their scholarly expertise and share it with one or more students in a truly learning community. We discuss collaborative learning below as one of the unique forms of scholarship at a college like ours but it also is an important means of making the connection between scholarship and teaching.
  4. Sometimes scholarship can help a faculty person "see" another way of organizing a course or even result in the creation of a new course.
  5. The most obvious connection between scholarship and teaching is when we model the scholarly life. When students see their teachers seeking truth they get a sense of what it means to commit oneself to the scholarly life. With any luck, some of them will follow us and choose our way of life for themselves.

Depth and Range of Achievement

We continue to feel most comfortable working with what we call a “totality of circumstances” approach. We think the primary goal of scholarship ought to be to make for better, more intellectually rigorous teaching, and can imagine a wide range of combinations of scholarly activity that would satisfy those goals. Nevertheless, we understand which way the prevailing winds are blowing and know that it will be difficult for a candidate to be tenured without at least one or two scholarly publications.

We will make certain that a new member of our department establishes and follows a plan of action so that by the time of the third year review there is a clear pattern of commitment to the scholarly life. Indeed, it will be important for us to know that a new faculty person has some kind of research program, some subject they are fired up about and are pursuing in some organized way. Being able to articulate this in a personal statement will be extremely important, but we also will expect to see evidence of research that has been shared with a larger community in the form of conference presentations or published work.

We will convey to that person that because a true scholar publishes one’s work we will expect to see one or more published pieces by the time of tenure review. In addition, an ongoing pattern of publication in scholarly journals will be a prerequisite to being promoted to professor.

Distinctive Forms of Scholarship at a Liberal Arts College of the Church

  • For the most part we believe that the search for truth is the same whether one is at a research university or a liberal arts college. We expect that over time much of the research done by political scientists at Luther College will involve what one might call traditional research.
  • We can identify, though, a number of research opportunities that one might consider unique to this liberal arts college of the church.
    • Although collaborative research with students in our discipline is not always as easily done as in the natural sciences, over time there will be opportunities for faculty members drawing students into research projects. For example, the faculty member doing a study that requires the gathering (or coding) of empirical data might make good use of a student. There also are opportunities for case studies grounded in the surrounding community where students with adequate background might collaborate with a faculty member.
    • Because we are a liberal arts college where teaching matters faculty members might do research that raises questions about pedagogy. Issues related to how students learn about citizenship, the role of ideology in classroom presentations, and so forth, could be projects worthy of scholarly research shared with a wider audience.
    • One can argue that political scientists should play a more active role in helping the citizenry understand contemporary political issues. Although the role of public intellectual/commentator is not one that research universities tend to reward it is an important kind of research that might be well suited to a college whose mission statement calls for moving students “into a larger world” and preparing them “to serve with distinction for the common good.” This might result in op-ed pieces in newspapers, commentary on the public air waves, and articles for journals that aim to reach a more general audience.
    • The community where Luther College finds itself located has been dealing with a series of contentious issues of late; currently there are golden opportunities for field research related to the nature of politics, leadership, community development, and so forth, in our own backyard.

A Final Reminder to Ourselves and the Dean

Three members of our department have served on the ATP committee in recent years, leading us to recognize that there are significant differences among disciplines regarding the production of scholarly works. There also are different teaching loads; the size of our department and the desire to offer a wide range of upper level courses means that some members of our department regularly teach seven preparations each year. Moreover, we traditionally have encouraged members of the department to be active participants in the life of the college and to engage in interdisciplinary teaching. We do not offer these as excuses but as reminder to ourselves and the dean that as we make judgments about the quantity of scholarship that we not forget that formal scholarship is just part of what it means to be a good teacher and citizen at Luther College.

(September 2002)