Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 174.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
 From: "Robert J. O'Hara" <firstname.lastname@example.org> (37)
Subject: Re: 15.172 Interdisciplinarity
 From: "Osher Doctorow" <email@example.com> (124)
Subject: Re: 15.172 Interdisciplinarity
Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2001 08:06:26 +0100
From: "Robert J. O'Hara" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: 15.172 Interdisciplinarity
> Geoffrey Rockwell <email@example.com> on interdisciplinarity writes:
> 4. They can set up special structures for interdisciplinary initiatives...
> 2. ...Before you create a department of Humanities Computing you fund
> an interdisciplinary program to see if the student demand is there.
> 3. An administrative structure based on the traditional disciplines is
> brittle. There need to be ways to handle the gentle shifts of
> faculty/student interests....
In addition to the excellent list Geoff provides, I'd like to suggest
another institutional structure that is especially conducive to
interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship in the broadest sense: the
traditional residential college structure found at Oxford and Cambridge.
By bringing together a group of students and teachers from all branches
of the university in a _small_ decentralized community, wonderful things
can happen. Small size, intellectual diversity, and frequent informal
contact are all essential. (In a sense, that is why so many
interdisciplinary groups on the net, like Humanist, are also successful.)
The Oxbridge residential college model was long confined to those two
universities (and then later Durham and some Commonwealth universities
in the 19th century), but more recently it has begin to spread widely.
The University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico, has just converted to
a collegiate structure; the new International University Bremen will be
built on a collegiate structure; Universiteit Utrecht has just created
its first residential college of this kind, and so on. In the US,
Harvard and Yale established residential colleges in the 1930s, and many
universities in the last 10 years have been exploring the model. Even
Middlebury College, a liberal arts school, has decided that its 2000
students are too many to form a genuinely cohesive community and it has
divided itself into five residential "colleges within the college."
If this framework for promoting interdisciplinarity is of interest to
you, in invite you to visit my website on the subject, "The Collegiate
Way: Residential Colleges and University Reform" (http://collegiateway.org).
-- Robert J. O'Hara (firstname.lastname@example.org - http://rjohara.net) Biology Dept., University of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC 27402 USA
-------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2001 08:07:07 +0100 From: "Osher Doctorow" <email@example.com> Subject: Re: 15.172 Interdisciplinarity
From: Osher Doctorow firstname.lastname@example.org, Sat. Aug. 11, 2001 9:26PM
Geoffrey Rockwell's contribution here is excellent. An interdisciplinary administrator, like an interdisciplinary faculty member or student, is worth his/her weight in gold.
----- Original Message ----- From: "Humanist Discussion Group <email@example.com>)" <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: "Humanist Discussion Group" <humanist@lists.Princeton.EDU> Sent: Saturday, August 11, 2001 3:22 AM
> > Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 172. > Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London > <http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/> > <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/> > > > > Date: Sat, 11 Aug 2001 11:17:16 +0100 > From: Geoffrey Rockwell <email@example.com> > Subject: Interdisciplinarity > > > Dear all, > > I find the distinction of top-down and bottom-up interdisciplinarity > doesn't quite match my experience. I worry it feeds off an unexamined > proposition that all senior administrators are bad (or cynical) and > everyone in the ranks is good (or straightforward). The truth about > administration is that it can be done well or badly like anything else. > Further, administrators in universities have limited tools at their > disposal, especially when most of their budget is tied up in tenured staff > and governments ask them to cut budgets. At McMaster the administration has > been pushing interdisciplinarity and have put real (though limited) > resources behind it. Here are some of the ways administrators can support > such initiatives: > > 1. They can keep some of the budget (as opposed to distributing it to the > next tier of units) and then award it to projects/initiatives that cross > boundaries. > > 2. They can back grant applications that support interdiscipinary > initiatives with things like space, support, and money. > > 3. They can fund the development of interdisciplinary initiatives (courses, > programmes, institutes). > > 4. They can set up special structures for interdisciplinary initiatives. > For example we have had a Theme School model where groups of faculty can > propose a undergraduate program that runs for about 6 years on a theme and > that crosses disciplinary boundaries. > > 5. They can insist that new faculty hired into tenure track positions > (which entail a 25 year committment on the part of the University) > demonstrate interdisciplinary research/teaching potential. > > In short, there are ways in which senior administrators can support > interdisciplinarity and I have worked with such administrators (they do > exist!) Such support has a cost and usually comes at the expense of > supporting other types of activities. (If you fund theme schools then you > have less money to fund other things.) This leads to the question of why > senior administrators would put serious funds behind such initiatives. Some > of the reasons I have heard here are: > > 1. It is a way of keeping talented faculty whose research and teaching has > taken a direction not supported by the programs/departments they teach in. > > 2. It is a way of experimenting with and preparing for larger initiatives > that might better reflect the interests of faculty and students. Before you > create a department of Humanities Computing you fund an interdisciplinary > program to see if the student demand is there. > > 3. An administrative structure based on the traditional disciplines is > brittle. There need to be ways to handle the gentle shifts of > faculty/student interests over time without having to overhaul the > department structure every 10 years. As such, support for > interdisciplinarity is actually a way of preserving the traditional > divisions by having an escape valve for initiatives that call the > traditions into question. Without concrete administrative structures and > flexibility we would be forced to either keep things as they are or change > them drastically. Either/or administration is inflexible and doesn't work, > in my opinion. > > 4. Senior administrators are looking at long-term trends and worry about > being stuck with highly specialized programmes/departments that do > something very well that no one is interested in. There seems to be a > natural tension between chairs, deans and provosts. The higher up, the more > flexibility they want to make large scale changes. The lower down the more > administrators want the perfect person for a targeted need now. Deans and > Provosts worry about being stuck with specialists that can't meet the > changing needs of students. Chairs worry about being stuck with > interdisciplinary generalists that can't do the specialized graduate > courses. This tension plays itself out in terms of budgets. Each level of > administration wants the most flexibility they can get for their level. A > provost doesn't want to committ all his/her budget to the faculties. He/she > wants to have a budget to do things the faculties won't do - and those > things tend to be interdisciplinary in that they cross faculty lines. Deans > on the other hand want to do stuff that crosses departmental lines, but are > reluctant to help other faculties and so on down the line. > > My point is that interdisciplinarity can be more than just a trendy word - > the word can be used at different levels to protect budgets from the level > below for initiatives that would not be supported by any of the units > below. Interdisciplinarity can be implemented in concrete ways if > administrators are good at what they do. It can also be the site of tension > between levels of administration which is why the term itself gets called > into question. If you don't like how interdisciplinarity plays out why not > label it a trendy term as a way of dismissing it. (This tactic rarely > works, the senior administrators just close ranks and dismiss us as people > who don't understand the real world - the administrative response to the > disregard we can hold administration in.) > > Yours, > > Geoffrey Rockwell >
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