The Scientist

February 28, 2005

I agree completely with the thesis presented by Richard Cherwitz in your January 17 issue [1]. However, while I agree with Cherwitz that teaching is part of the mission of our academic institutions and is examined for tenure decisions, I disagree that this activity is valued to the extent that he suggests.

Perhaps such citizen scholars deserve even more recognition than those conducting just research. The problem is that the business of research is the culture of our ivory tower existence, and it will not change until leadership defines our scholarly activity for tenure and promotion and pay raises also to include "community service" as Cherwitz has defined it. Said differently and using his terminology, the citizen scholar must be recognized with the same level of distinction as those that do "pure" science research if we are to evolve in the academy.

In my own case, I have had a successful research program on a particular sexually transmitted disease for almost twenty-five years. During this time, I have performed in my estimation a significant amount of "citizen scholarship" as evidenced by numerous activities and criteria. In addition, I am proud that my laboratory has developed the first-ever point-of-care diagnostic for the disease we study, and this will be followed soon by additional diagnostics -- all of this while doing our ivory tower research. What is bothersome is that this "extra" citizen scholarship, while occasionally highlighted in institutional newsletters, is not part of any reward system.

Lastly, I have found that successful minority scientists are more likely to be engaged in "giving back" to the community perhaps more than their counterparts. And many minority faculty can attest to the fact that this can be a double-edged sword.

John F. Alderete, Ph.D.
San Antonio, TX

[1] Cherwitz, Richard. "Citizen Scholars: Research Universities Must Strive for Academic Engagement." The Scientist, 19:1 (January 17, 2005), 10.