Organization History

As aptly recorded by the new history of MISF, Scholars without Walls: A History of the Minnesota Independent Scholars Forum (Brusic, 2018), the societal milieu from which MISF emerged was characterized by the unforeseen combination of two factors in the 1970s: a plethora of Ph.Ds and a shortage of academic jobs for them. Something had to be done to give academically trained, but unemployed, scholars both an outlet for their intellectual energy and a platform from which they could contribute their learning to society. Thus, organizations like MISF were founded throughout the country.

Accordingly, a group of 65 people met in 1982 at the Minneapolis Public Library to found an organization that would serve the needs of disenfranchised scholars. Concurrently, the new organization received a 5-year, $60,000 grant from the Northwest Area Foundation (NWAF), and a year later applied for legal status as a 501(c)(3), non-profit corporation.

By 1984, there were a total of 81 enrolled members. MISF members had been granted access to University of Minnesota libraries, six MISF Study Groups were active in as many diverse areas of study, and the new organization began to give an annual award of $3,000 to a selected “Scholar of the Year.”

In 1989, MISF began publishing a quarterly newsletter/journal, entitled The Forum, consisting of both organizational news and an eclectic array of scholarly articles. From its beginning, the organization took an interdisciplinary approach to scholarship and learning, as is also indicated by its long-standing Science and Humanities Study Group.

In 1990, MISF was granted 501(c)(3) status, retroactive to 1983, and due to this newly-acquired designation was able to perform the function of Fiscal Agent for grants to independent scholars from grantor organizations that require a third-party agency. At this time, MISF counted over 100 enrolled members.

By 1995, the societal crisis of unemployed scholars had largely abated, due to retirement in preceding years of a pool of older professors. Thus deprived of its original raison-d’etre, MISF struggled a bit to define its societal role in the shadow of the established, credentialed institutions of higher learning (aka “the academy);” but it began to understand its role as not one of attempting to replicate the academy, but rather that of complementing it. In other words, it saw that there is a unique and on-going role for MISF that serves purposes that the academy is inherently unable to serve, and that the need for independent scholarship is not simply dependent on a pool of unemployed Ph.D.s.

In conjunction with this, MISF began to recognize that the advent of the internet was about to profoundly and irrevocably change the practice of scholarship, making research and publication more accessible to everyone, regardless of academic credentials. Accordingly, by 1998, MISF had established its own website, posting issues of an expanded journal on-line. There were about 80 enrolled members at this time.

In 2003, due to university budget constraints, MISF members lost library privileges at the University of Minnesota, which event had a negative impact on membership; but the loss to individual members was mitigated by the increasing availability of research materials on-line.

In 2005, the MISF journal was renamed, from The Forum to Practical Thinking, and became a joint publication of MACAE (Minnesota Association for Continuing Adult Education) and MISF. Throughout, its existence MISF has joined forces with several other, non-profit learning organizations to pursue projects of mutual interest, MACAE being one of them.

By 2007, regular meetings of the Philosophy and History Study-Groups, and monthly, scholar-led forums had been established, giving a more formal structure to the organization.

By 2009, MISF enrollment had decreased to 50 members, but this number is hardly a measure of MISF’s viability. For one thing, meetings of MISF Study-Groups and monthly, scholar-led forums are freely open to the public, and the MISF Journal is freely available on-line. The only core function for which membership is required is fiscal agency for grants to individual scholars. On the other hand, the MISF Philosophy Study Group currently counts over 500 members on its pages.

In 2015, the name of the journal was changed yet again, from Practical Thinking to The Minnesota Scholar, and in 2017, three grants were awarded to MISF from the Minnesota Historical Society.