Thoughts on the Interdisciplinary and Integrative Studies Report

First, a few general comments on the original draft and the memo describing the proposed changes. As a department, we are supportive of Interdisciplinary and Integrative approaches to education. We have been involved in many ways in the past, and we think this report will allow us new and exciting ways to be involved in the future. We feel that Interdisciplinary and Integrative approaches will emphasize the strengths that the University of Richmond has as a liberal arts college. We are generally supportive of the slightly toned down recommendations mentioned in the memo because we think this is the best way to proceed in the future. The original draft had a tone that seemed to be forcing an unwilling faculty to get involved in Interdisciplinary work, and that approach seems far too bureaucratic and top down. We like the fact that the remaining recommendations focus on making resources and rewards available to encourage everyone to look for new ways to make this happen.

The report seems to primarily dwell on Interdisciplinary, and we would like to see a little more attention paid to Integrative approaches. For example, we would like to see the University encourage more of our students to have a capstone experience. This report would be a reasonable place to start a University wide conversation about what that might look like. Our general sense is that many departments and programs are asking more of their students to have a capstone experience, and we would like to see this encouraged and expanded at an institutional level.

Finally, we want to make sure that Interdisciplinary and Integrative studies do not evolve to mean humanities oriented courses. Of course, there are many natural interdisciplinary studies to be pursued in those areas and the lines between the disciplines are less firmly established than they are in the sciences, math, and computer science. We want to make sure that efforts in these areas are recognized in similar ways to the courses and studies which evolve in the humanities.

For Recommendation #32: effective means of communication. The web should be used as extensively as possible to advertise and provide information regarding I & I at the University of Richmond. This should go through the usual channels for getting pages on the University network. Not only does this keep our own students and faculty informed, but it also will let any interested people outside our little community know what we are doing here. This may help attract either faculty or students.

To address the 7 questions in the memo, we include the following thoughts:

  • Roadblocks. There are several roadblocks, including staffing difficulties, reward systems, and the need for young faculty to establish a record within the discipline. Staffing can be partially addressed by using adjuncts to provide release time. The reward system will have to be made clear over time. As mentioned before, we do not think that we should change the need for young faculty to focus their attention within their discipline.
  • Integrate. As mentioned in the preliminary paragraphs, we think capstone experiences should be encouraged and rewarded more at an institutional level.
  • Initiative vs. Quality Control. This will almost certainly have to be handled by the departments and disciplines most closely aligned with the interdisciplinary course.
  • New initiatives vs. supporting existing programs. We feel that a better balance has been struck by backing off the strong statements about I & I. We cannot weaken our existing programs.
  • Free time. We did not get into the debate about course loads.
  • Role of adjuncts. As mentioned above, adjuncts should be used sparingly to allow I & I courses to be taught.
  • Increase participation. The best way is to provide the opportunities and let people volunteer. In this document, the institution is declaring its interest in seeing I & I work happen. By increasing the resources directed to those efforts, we will see an increase in participation. As long as the quality is maintained, the University will greatly benefit from the voluntary increase in opportunities.
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