From 1973 to 1980, Lynton served as the academic vice president for the University of Massachusetts system. Lynton helped form the New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE), an organization that focused on research and policy for higher education to address social justice issues. Lynton championed a vision of scholarly engagement as inclusive, collaborative, and problem-oriented work in which academics share knowledge-generating tasks with the public and involve community partners as participants in public problem solving. His 1987 work New Priorities for the University: Meeting Society’s Needs for Applied Knowledge and Competent Individuals, co-authored with Sandra Elman, laid out his ideas for how scholarly university work can be recognized on a greater scale. This theme was explored in depth throughout his later academic career. Today, his scholarship still helps to guide CUMU’s work.
In 1996, the Ernest A. Lynton Award was established by NERCHE to honor Lynton’s lifelong scholarship. In January 2017, management of the award moved to the Howard R. Swearer Center at Brown University. Today, the award recognizes early career faculty who connect their teaching, research, and service to community engagement.