Archive for Wednesday, June 20, 1990


June 20, 1990


The growing movement to examine global and multicultural issues that cut across disciplines might be stirring interest in interdisciplinary education at Kansas University.

James Muyskens, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said a task force recently finished a review of KU interdisciplinary programs. The report included overall and specific program recommendations.

He said some KU programs are thriving; others are struggling. Some are new; others have a long history. Some have a few faculty; others a large cadre. None fits neatly into the departmental structure of the university.

Historically, academic departments at U.S. colleges have avoided collaborating in such programs because they are more difficult to manage, produce turf battles and don't adequately compensate participating faculty.

MUYSKENS SAID these issues influenced development of KU programs in women's studies, American studies, environmental studies, human biology, comparative literature and regional studies, such as African and African-American studies.

General recommendations by KU's task force include:

Directors of programs should be appointed, reviewed and compensated by the same procedures that govern the appointment and review of department chairs.

Interdisciplinary units should have an advisory board which is fully involved with respect to governance of the unit and mission statements for units developed.

Matters related to joint appointments, merit salary, tenure and promotion should be shared by the interdisciplinary program and the relevant home department.

THOMAS BEISECKER, associate professor of communication studies and a 1990-91 intra-university professor who will research and teach in the law school, said it's essential that KU focus more on interdisciplinary education in the 1990s.

"With virtually any major problem you're going to gain some sort of insight by not looking at it one way but a variety of ways," he said. "You can gain insights into it by looking at it from different perspectives."

Ann Schofield, whose appointment is split between American studies and women's studies, directs the women's studies program. Students like interdisciplinary courses because it helps them see the "big picture," she said.

"A student can come into an American studies class and become saturated in what the United States is by trying to grasp something of its literature, its history, its visual arts all in one place," Schofield said.

SPECIFIC program recommendations by the task force are:

Women's studies and American studies would benefit in terms of their teaching missions if each had separate budgets, secretarial support and space allocations.

Environmental studies and human biology need autonomy from the division of biology, which doesn't necessarily share interdisciplinary interests.

The college needs to provide sufficient budgetary incentives and relief time for faculty to teach in the humanities and comparative literature programs.

The governance structure of the African and African-American studies and the Soviet and East European studies programs should be reviewed by the college.

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