Change as a Scholarly Act

Judith Ramaley
Portland State University
Judith Ramaley, Portland State University
published Aug 30, 2017
The Accelerating Systemic Change in STEM Undergraduate Education (ASCN) Network was set up to accelerate change at program and institution levels, and to improve STEM education nationally. Underlying all of these efforts is the question of how to think about change itself and how to launch, expand, and then sustain and adapt a large-scale change effort in the context of our college and university environments. Much of the literature on change has been developed through the study of change efforts in business settings (e.g., Kotter 1996, Heifetz and Linsky 2002). While approaches like these offer a number of useful insights into the nature of change itself and effective ways to think about and lead a change effort, they are based on the culture, approaches to leadership, and working relationships that characterize a business environment.

For many years now, I have encouraged colleagues to think of change in higher education context as an act of scholarship (Ramaley, 2000). This way of thinking recognizes and respects the distinctive culture and values that must guide a change effort in a campus environment. The core values of Academia are scholarship and learning supported by a commitment to academic freedom, shared governance and distinctive disciplinary approaches to gathering and evaluating evidence. Change unfolds in a mosaic of micro-cultures created by disciplinary differences as well as the roles and responsibilities assumed by people who manage the campus infrastructure, support student life and development, raise funds to support the institution and its people, or provide technical assistance for research, teaching and learning. If it is to have institutional significance, any meaningful change process will require the cooperation, knowledge and involvement of all of these parts of the institution.

An especially helpful way to think about approaching change as an act of scholarship is to apply the same expectations and evidence that we would use when evaluating a scholarly portfolio. To model a scholarly approach, a change effort must encompass discovery, integration, and application. According to Ernest Boyer (1990), discovery contributes both to our stock of human knowledge and to the intellectual climate of a campus. Integration entails making connections across the disciplines and placing a question in a larger context that has meaning for everyone who participates. Application requires the responsible use of knowledge to address consequential problems in a collaborative way across fields, roles, and responsibilities. An effective change agenda draws upon all three of these aspects of scholarship.

In Scholarship Assessed, Glassick et al (1997) offer a well-researched framework both for evaluating scholarship and for designing a scholarly approach to change. A well designed change approach has clear goals firmly grounded in what we know about our disciplines, our students and their experiences and the context in which we work. The goals are based on a thoughtful review of evidence gathered and interpreted in a principled way and shown to be significantly related to the challenges at hand. The case for change being proposed must be presented effectively in a way that demonstrates a deep sense of responsibility for effects of the ideas and actions being proposed upon the community that will be affected, both inside and outside the institution.

Together, these elements of a proposal for change create a warrant, a complex interweaving of evidence, explanation and clearly articulated values. A warrant starts with a claim that a particular problem exists, that the problem matters and that particular actions should be taken to address it. It provides evidence to describe the problem and it makes clear the specific circumstances under which a claim may be true. In short, the development of a framework for change looks a lot like the components of a research proposal and then a research paper that reports on the findings and implications of the work. The story that a change agent tells must describe the challenge clearly, its nature and its source; describe who is affected by this problem; lay out the main strategies, ideas and innovations that will be used, show why these approaches have been chosen and how the impact and outcomes of the effort will be measured. Once the project is underway, there should be a mechanism to gather evidence, reflect on what the data mean and consolidate the learning from this change effort (Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities, 2017). Approached as a form of engaged scholarship, an academic change effort is more likely to be successful.


Boyer, Ernest L. (1990) Scholarship Reconsidered. Priorities of the Professoriate. Lawrenceville, NJ: Princeton University Press. 146 pages.
Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (2017). Metropolitan Universities Journal Article Submission and Editorial Guidelines. Retrieved from on August 25, 2017.
Glassick, Charles E, Mary Taylor Huber ands I Maeroff (1997) Scholarship Assessed. Evaluation of the Professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc. 130 pages
Heifetz, Ronald A and Marty Linsky (2002) Leadership on the Line. Staying Alive thr0ugh the Dangers of Leading. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 250 pages.
Kotter, John P. (1996) Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 186 pages.
Ramaley, J.A. (2000) "Change as a Scholarly Act: Higher Education Research Transfer to Practice" In Moving Beyond the Gap Between Research and Practice in Higher Education. Edited by Adrianna Kezar and Peter Eckel. New Directions for Higher Education series, Jossey-Bass Publishers. San Francisco. Summer 2000; pgs. 75-88.

Suggested Citation
Ramaley, J.A. (2017, August 30). Change as a Scholarly Act [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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