Test of Time
departments, and the changing landscape of knowledge at Emory
program does not necessarily become its own field or discipline
or department. The test really is time.
Sanders, Professor of English and African American Studies and Chair
of the Department of African American Studies
its an emergent property of the people who are here, a program
can respond to and provide the most cutting-edge intellectual environment
at that moment.
Lennard, Director of the Program in Neuroscience and Behavioral
ought to be something in Atlanta.
a program became a school
and programs featured in this article
Academic Exchange What
is the strength of being a program versus being a department for
Paul Lennard The strength of a traditional department is
that it can become a tenure home and actively recruit new faculty.
And the weakness of a department is that its a tenure home
and can actively recruit new faculty. The university has a limited
set of resources, and they have to be used across the whole community.
If you structure an interdisciplinary program so that it provides
a minimum workload and a maximum scholarly interface, you can build
a very large, dynamic organization that does not compete with the
traditional departments. All interdisciplinary approaches really
borrow from the strengths of the traditional disciplines. The faculty
who form the NBB have made it clear that our evolution is not toward
becoming a department.
AE Did you ever consider moving toward departmental status?
PL We weighed what you could get if you start looking for
the space, tenure lines, and start-up money. Wed have a very
small department that would take a very long time to grow. nbb is
now as far as we know the largest neuroscience undergraduate major
in the world. We have three hundred and fifty majors and sixty-five
faculty from six college departments, four medical departments,
and the school of public health. We have tremendous cooperation
and diversity. If we contracted to a department, we would slide
way back. If we give faculty choices between being in the program
and being in another department, suddenly theres competition.
Also, I have a fundamental belief that theres less inertia
in a program. On a year-to-year basis, we can get the very best
people that have an association with this field at the university.
Over time those people change, the interests of the faculty evolve.
And because its an emergent property of the people who are
here, a program can respond to and provide the most cutting-edge
intellectual environment at that moment. And not resist changing
to something else as the academic tides shift.
Its interesting that a lot of the corporate and biotech environments
have taken what I would call a more forward-thinking approach to
solving problems than the academy: if they want to develop a drug
for something, they put together a working team of all the experts
in all the fields that seem to be appropriate for that, and theyre
together for that time. Then they disperse.
AE Why dont you think the university does that more
PL I think the university has this rigid structure around
departments. If you think of what the job description of a professor
is for tenure or something else, to a large extent, every faculty
member at Emory has the same job description. If you talk to somebody
in corporate personnel about that, theyd be astonished, because
in fact everybody has something slightly different to offer. And
one wonders if forcing everybody to come up with the same job is
the best way to do it. Ultimately one wants to evaluate all programs,
as one wants to evaluate all traditional departments over time,
because things do change. But thats a difficult thing to do
because of territoriality, space, commitments, historythere
can be acrimony. So its better to have an organizational system
that can move fluidly. And I think thats the strength of interdisciplinary
studies in general.
AE Would you say NBB is a discipline unto itself?
PL Absolutely not. It is very broad. If neuroscience is the
study of brain, thought, cognition, memory, and also how the central
nervous system controls body function, and if behavioral biology
is the study of how organisms interact with the environment and
each other, there isnt anything that I cant make relevant
I think perhaps the other side of being plastic and dynamic is the
threat of not being particularly robust. One or two people have
to be there to make it all work. It doesnt run on its own.
What youre doing is trying to be a good citizen in a larger
academic community while at the same time utilizing those resources
the community has to offer. But that means that at every moment,
youre kind of reinventing the program. Perhaps that is as
good a litmus test as any of when the program has gotten too old
or is not in the right place, because nobody steps up and it dissolves.
I honestly believe that the program structure, at least in our case,
has absolutely unlimited potential. I dont have to worry about
running out of room, tenure-track lines, support staff, or set-up
money. And if I run out ideas, the program shouldnt have me,
or it shouldnt be there.