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.
- Departmental concerns
- Recommendation #5: including I & I statement in all job advertisements.
For all of our job searches, and particularly our job searches in Computer
Science, we need to attract the widest possible applicant pool. We only
have 14 applicants after about 4 weeks for the new CS position, and we
don't want to do anything to discourage potential applicants. We have
as a department been interested in candidates with Interdisciplinary
interests, but we would be hesitant to write that into a job advertisement
or to use that to filter candidates who do not have an explicit
interdisciplinary agenda but are otherwise highly qualified individuals.
- Recommendation #4: rewards and recognitions. This is appropriate,
but we expect most of the faculty will take a wait and see approach. Any
I & I activity will require a significant time and energy investment by
the person involved, and that time and energy will be taken away from some
other more traditional academic activity. We would advise any untenured
member of the faculty to avoid devoting a significant amount of time
in this area because it is not clear that the payoff will be worth it:
they will still be judged by how good their teaching was within their
discipline and by how productive they have been in their research within
their discipline. Unless and until that changes, we don't see any reason
to advise them otherwise.
To say it another way, even if the rewards were clear for an untenured
person, we would still advise against involvement in I & I activities.
This does not come from strong feelings against I & I in general. It
does come from a view that a faculty member must establish his or her
reputation within a discipline first before branching out to other
interests. While not perfect, disciplines have served fairly well
at maintaining quality standards and that will almost certainly still
be true in the future.
- Institutional concerns
- Recommendation #13: creating an office of I & I studies. We agree
with the dropping of this recommendation. We feel that
Recommendations #7 through #12 will
encourage I & I activity without forcing anything on anyone.
- Recommendation #23: quality control issues. As mentioned before,
there are reasonable quality control measures within a discipline. We
should overall trust our colleagues to do a good job, but it is hard
to see what authority will be deciding when a course is not academically
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
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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