Aims This paper discusses the issues facing the nursing academic workforce and the development of a project at the University of Wollongong in Australia which attempts to address this problem. Background The project draws on Boyer's work around 'scholarship reconsidered' to enable new ways of thinking about the nature of 'research' and how the work of a diversifying workforce can be recognized and rewarded within institutions. Methods We conducted a series of interviews with senior university staff to identify key issues around academic promotion processes. Feedback from these interviews, along with extensive internal and external consultation and benchmarking, will be used to redraft promotion documentation that includes discipline-specific performance expectations. Results Interviews revealed a number of perceived and actual barriers to promotion of academic staff who did not conform to a 'traditional' view of research expectations. It was widely felt that unspoken expectations about research performance were being used to judge applications for promotion, and that this disadvantaged people from practice or professional backgrounds, or people who had heavy administrative or clinical roles. Conclusions Internal university processes need to reflect the reality of a diversified workforce. Practice and professional disciplines have responsibilities beyond meeting traditional research output measurements. More flexible and transparent expectation guidelines and career development pathways are needed to build holistic schools and faculty and enable maximum staff productivity. Implications for nursing management By redefining scholarship, schools and faculties are able to meet the multiple demands of the government, the institution, individual staff, students and the profession. Not everyone can do traditional research all the time, and staff involved in other scholarly work should be able to rewarded and promoted. By taking the lead in this issue, nursing as a discipline can set its own agenda, and pave the way for other disciplines. It can also go a long way to solving issues around the dwindling academic workforce.