Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Material for Thought on Interdisciplinary Work in Academia

There is an interesting interview/commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the constraints faced by academia in instituting true interdisciplinary teaching and research. This article should be viewable even without a subscription. Here is a sample from it (full link at bottom):

"Even interdisciplinary work relies on the concept of disciplines, and when it relates to teaching, it usually involves pulling together two professors from different departments to teach a single course. Each brings their own disciplinary expertise to bear on the subject, while respecting the boundaries of their colleague’s discipline. This seems like more of a disciplinary constraint than an administrative one.

However, when we go beyond the level of a course, we are talking about a more serious institutional investment. At the end of the day, I have to present a balanced budget to my dean or provost, and if I add another program — particularly one that will not pay for itself — I need to show that I have made cuts elsewhere. The easiest place to make these cuts is in the interdisciplinary faculty member’s “home” department, particularly when this balancing is done at the dean’s-office level. That creates hostility within the department and further resentment of a faculty member who may already be at the margins. For a junior faculty member, this means angering the senior folks who will be voting on their tenure case. Most assistant professors I know are not willing to take that risk."

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