Appendix C: Report Of The Subcommittee On Interdisciplinary Teaching

Members:Paul Lennard, Betsey Patterson, Jonas Shulman, Frances Lucas-Taucher, John Witte, Jr. (chair); Faith Kirkham Hawkins (assistant).


The commission defines "interdisciplinary teaching" in its most rudimentary sense as: (1) the enrichment of one discipline by use of the language, methods, or canons of one or more other disciplines; or (2) the common inquiry into universal themes, such as health, justice, or violence, using the language, methods, and canons of two or more disciplines. Interdisciplinary teaching has emerged as a reaction to the excessive specialization and balkanized structure of the modern research university. Exponents of interdisciplinary teaching often espouse integrated theories of learning and holistic understandings of professionalism.

Interdisciplinary teaching is widely available at Emory. Elective courses are offered on topics such as law and literature, biology and psychology, theological and medical ethics, and numerous other binary titles-with courses sometimes cross-listed and featuring multiple course numbers. Clinical courses in the college and professional schools place students in various social-service contexts and follow this with interdisciplinary seminar discussions of their experiences. Regional studies programs-focused on Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia-offer an array of interdisciplinary courses, majors, and degree programs. Programs in Women's Studies, African American Studies, Jewish Studies, and other topics offer interdisciplinary curricular and extracurricular experiences for discrete groups of students and faculty. A number of institutes, centers, and programs-many of recent vintage-have emerged at the university, among them the Institute of the Liberal Arts; Center for Ethics in Public Policy and the Professions; Center for Health, Culture, and Society; Law and Religion Program; Program in Violence Studies; Mellon Southern Studies Program; Program in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology; Mellon Incentive for Interdisciplinary Studies; Center for Teaching and Curriculum. These units offer various combinations of courses, clinicals, publications, public forums, and joint-degree programs on interdisciplinary themes.

The commission's review and recommendations are based on the foregoing forms and forums of interdisciplinary teaching. It should be noted, however, that interdisciplinarity at Emory goes well beyond traditional classroom teaching and reaches well beyond the Emory community. The interdisciplinary research, publications, and public lecturing of individual faculty; the dozens of interdisciplinary forums of the Medical School and School of Public Health; the many externships and internships offered through Emory College, the Carter Center, and the professional schools; the public conferences and colloquia organized by the Ethics Center or the Law and Religion Program-all these are vital vehicles of interdisciplinarity at Emory, even if not formally recognized as interdisciplinary teaching.


It is clear that the rise of interdisciplinary studies at Emory is due, in no small part, to the consistent endorsement and periodic underwriting provided by the president, provost, and some deans and department chairs in the course of the past two decades. Indeed, the directors of several of the more successful interdisciplinary centers and programs cite such moral and fiscal support as a principal reason for their success and longevity. Many faculty members cite Emory's commitments to interdisciplinarity (and internationalization) as critical to its pedagogical mission. Students participating in interdisciplinary courses and degree programs indicate that the availability of such forums was among the principal reasons for their choosing to attend Emory.

It is equally clear, however, that for many people the administration's interdisciplinary rhetoric has not yet become enough of a reality. The students' and faculty's level of discontent with Emory's interdisciplinary structures and services is surprisingly high and heated, even among those involved in successful programs. Charges that interdisciplinarity at Emory is only "dean deep," "idle rhetoric," and "structurally superficial" are raised frequently and forcefully.

To be sure, the commission has tended by design to attract more complaints than compliments. It is more a barometer of minority discontent than a mirror of average sentiment. Moreover, the superimposition of interdisciplinary bridges on long-standing disciplinary divisions invariably has created intellectual rifts and administrative fallouts that are the birth pangs of a new pedagogy. Even when viewed this way, however, the problems commonly reported are rather acute.

Students have listed a host of other less pressing problems, among them the long distances between classrooms and short intervals between classes; uninformed departmental or program secretaries or assistants too jealous about protecting their administrative boundaries; turf wars between teachers or departments for classroom space; delayed or deficient texts or materials that have fallen between the cracks of two faculties.

None of these problems is, of itself, more than an annoyance. Taken together, though, such problems are a substantial obstacle to interdisciplinary study at Emory, meaning that only a determined and enterprising student is willing to hazard such a course. Several students indicate that they simply have given up their interdisciplinary endeavors or joint-degree programs as a consequence, choosing to pursue more traditional disciplinary majors or tracks. There is a salutary Darwinism in all this, for it weeds out the less enterprising and imaginative student. Nonetheless, it seems that students' survival at interdisciplinary study at Emory should be more dependent upon their intellectual fortitude inside the classroom than their administrative smarts to get to the classroom.

  • Faculty Problems: Faculty likewise cite a number of common problems that suggest that Emory's interdisciplinary rhetoric has not yet yielded a satisfactory interdisciplinary ethic. Faculty regularly repeat criticisms one through four of those cited by students above. In addition, faculty cite other problems, born of the straitened disciplinary structure of the university.

    1. Many faculty complain that they encounter, within their departments or schools, a reward and incentive system that too often makes interdisciplinary teaching both risky and onerous. Interdisciplinary teaching is often viewed as suspect or peripheral to the core pedagogical mission of a department, division, or school. Faculty invited to lecture or teach in another unit often must do so on top of a full-time teaching load in their home department or school. Those faculty interested in opening their courses or a new course to students outside their school or major often are discouraged to do so by colleagues and/or chairs. As a consequence, some basic interdisciplinary courses-such as biostatistics, introduction to law, or comparative professional ethics-are not offered at all, even though they should be regularly available to students in many parts of the university.

      The director of a major new interdisciplinary initiative at Emory summarizes his experience with interdisciplinary teaching at Emory thus: "Max Weber was right. Bureaucracies become interested in the maintenance of their authority, numbers, and reach, while seeking to minimize their responsibility. We continually ran against the concern-and even fear-of specific departments and divisions, including the . . . dean, that their individual power would somehow be diminished by allowing faculty from different parts of the university to work together."

    2. These inherent difficulties in interdisciplinary teaching are exacerbated when faculty are expected to raise a portion of their salaries from research grants, notably in the Schools of Medicine and Public Health. Time is more profitably spent on the procurement of grants, and faithful execution of same, than on the development of innovative courses, team-teaching outside one's own department, or remedial teaching of a core subject.

    3. Faculty holding joint appointments complain that they are expected to carry full administrative burdens in both departments, thus holding double committee, student advising, and similar assignments. Likewise, faculty given to interdisciplinary interests complain of being overburdened with numerous university committee assignments beyond those of their home unit; these, then, encroach both on teaching and research time.

    4. Junior faculty who are pursuing interdisciplinary research and teaching in one unit or holding joint appointments in two disciplines complain that they are held to the standards of only one discipline when judged for promotion and tenure. They also complain that the evaluation process of one department or school does not draw adequately on the expert opinion of interdisciplinary colleagues in other departments or schools. This method of evaluation certainly has created ample anxiety at Emory, personal and vicarious. Withal, though, critics have cited only one instance where they believed a professor devoted to interdisciplinary study was denied promotion unfairly.

    5. Faculty interested in creating and maintaining interdisciplinary programs or projects complain that they receive too little encouragement from chairs or deans, and too little access to university funding or to the services of Institutional Advancement. They often are left to limp along with a slight course reduction for the director and minimal administrative help, office space, and operating funds. And they frequently must resort to cajolery or bribery to induce colleagues and students to participate or cooperate in their venture. Unless their director is doubly determined, such interdisciplinary initiatives invariably die out after a few years.

      There is a salutary Darwinism at work in this too, requiring faculty to demonstrate their interdisciplinary faith with programmatic works before they are rewarded. Sometimes, though, the rewards of more permanent funding are long in coming. Moreover, the Darwinian administrative exercise comes at considerable cost: the increased demands on the teaching and research time and energy of directors, the burnout of participating faculty and directors, the loss of some valuable interdisciplinary initiatives that might not have foundation appeal or a charismatic director but are nonetheless worthy of pursuit.


    Any effort to reform interdisciplinary teaching at Emory must bear three caveats in mind. First, the university must resist the erosion and homogenization of viable disciplinary studies. The goal of interdisciplinary studies should be to enhance the understanding of topics and texts, policies and principles traditionally studied separately by individual disciplines. Its goal should not be to obliterate these disciplines or to reduce their special forms and norms of knowledge to a bland intellectual ecumenism.

    Second, the university must resist allowing interdisciplinary studies to become an end in themselves. The university does not need a new "discipline" of interdisciplinarity, which would compete with existing disciplines for intellectual and fiscal resources. Such a situation would exacerbate the balkanization of pedagogy that interdisciplinary studies was designed to overcome.

    Third, the university must resist allowing interdisciplinary studies to become a means to achieving ulterior ends. Interdisciplinarity has been, and can be, used as a pedagogical proxy for pursuing goals of political correctness, conservative retrenchment, or public- policy reform that might not be viable standing alone. The university should thus welcome new interdisciplinary initiatives with healthy skepticism, making close inquiry to ensure that their intellectual values and visions are consistent with those of the university's broader pedagogical agenda.

    With these caveats in mind, the commission recommends several reforms to improve interdisciplinary teaching at Emory.

    1. Short Term: The small, but annoying, obstacles to interdisciplinary study can be alleviated by the following relatively simple and inexpensive reforms that should be implemented in the next academic year:

      1. The university administration should try to synchronize the semester and class schedules of all units of the university. Such might be a more involved reform than it appears, because of separate accreditation demands on individual schools or departments. Moreover, it seems impossible to integrate the calender of the School of Medicine into that of the rest of the university. Still, such a step-even if applied only to parts of the university-would aid interdisciplinary teaching and study.

      2. The university should prepare and circulate an annual, campus-wide course atlas-made available on the Emory website and/or in printed form-for use by students, staff, and faculty. Historically, the widely variant administrative rhythms and cycles of individual schools and divisions have made this impossible. Setting a university-wide deadline for reporting on forthcoming semesters and classes, and a central office or method for collecting and collating this information, should facilitate the preparation of this atlas.

      3. The university should appoint a university registrar and financial aid officer charged exclusively with the registration, financial aid, residency, and bursar matters of interdisciplinary and joint-degree students. In addition, such a service should be advertised to all students, staff, and faculty.

      4. At the same time, and preferably in the same office, the university should appoint a university-wide academic counseling officer-available in person or by website-who would be charged with all interdisciplinary counseling of students, as well as with educating faculty, staff, and students on interdisciplinary opportunities.

    2. Intermediate Term: During the next one to three years, the university might profitably consider the following reforms, each more extensive and expensive, but designed to alleviate the most acute and common obstacles to interdisciplinarity.

      1. The university should appoint a vice provost or dean-supported by a small but representative faculty committee-to help coordinate interdisciplinary teaching and research. This central unit could help faculty prepare funding proposals, facilitate their access to foundations, and gain decanal approval for new interdisciplinary teaching and research initiatives. It could coordinate the interdisciplinary curriculum of the university as a whole and, where necessary, encourage through competitive funding the development of new interdisciplinary courses and projects. Such a committee could provide a forum for students seeking the alleviation of problems with their interdisciplinary courses that cannot be addressed through normal channels. It also might provide a voice in promotion or tenure decisions of interdisciplinary or jointly appointed professors.

      2. In an effort to promote interdisciplinary studies and to ease the burdens of cross- registration, the university should create a category of college, graduate, and professional school courses labeled "Interdisciplinary." Several colleges and universities would offer a wide range of such courses and require students to take a set number of them, regardless of their major. The courses would be categorized by their levels of difficulty and numbers of prerequisites. Faculty would petition to teach them or would be directed to do so by their deans or chairs. Departments, divisions, and schools would each be expected to offer a minimum number of such courses each year, whether handled by an individual instructor or team-taught.

      3. The university should screen its new appointments of deans, directors, and chairs for their receptivity to and record of interdisciplinary teaching and study. Such administrators should be expected to foster and reward interdisciplinary teaching. This goal can be achieved in part through encouraging, even requiring, their faculty's participation in the category of interdisciplinary courses suggested above. At the simplest level, faculty can achieve this end simply by cross-listing their courses and reserving a set number of slots for cross-registered students. This reform will go a long way toward removing the current, cumbersome process of faculty release time and of interdivisional or interschool transfers of funds for cross-registration of students. It also will provide the incentive and means for faculty to develop basic courses that service students from various university units.

      4. The university should establish a series of floating chairs or university professorships to attract or retain senior, established scholars with a record of interdisciplinary teaching and research. Such professors might well have a natural home in one or two departments; however, they should be available to teach, lecture, conduct seminars, supervise students, and advise faculties in multiple departments, divisions, and schools. The current Woodruff Professorships might be converted readily to such floating or university professorships.

      5. The university should create an Emory Society of Fellows, composed of hand-picked chaired or senior professors from throughout the university and supplemented by an annual selection of younger faculty, students, and visitors who are admitted to the society on a competitive basis. In order to render the society more than just another committee burden, fellows should be given a stipend for their participation and an attractive venue for meeting. The society should hold monthly meetings during the academic term to hear and discuss presentations on interdisciplinary topics.

      6. The university should create an annual interdisciplinary seminar and conference designed for the pursuit of a common topic. A dozen or so faculty members, selected from throughout the university, can be released from their usual courses for a year to participate in an intensive seminar and to prepare new research on a common topic. Prototypes of their papers can be presented at a one-day university-wide conference, with responses from other faculty or students. The papers can be edited and published as an annual anthology in a university-subsidized book series known as Emory Interdisciplinary Studies.

      7. The university should stimulate, through competitive funding, the creation of new courses, seminars, and projects for interdisciplinary theory-practice learning. Theory- practice learning is designed to apply classroom theory to social services and to translate the platitudes of Commencement addresses into pedagogical programs before Commencement. Though many faculty are suspicious of theory-practice learning, students and faculty who participate in such exercises at Emory consistently report on their great edification. Such pedagogy provides what Timothy Stanton calls "the knowledge, skills, beliefs, and conscience necessary for becoming committed and compassionate citizens."

      8. Finally, the university should make a much stronger commitment to translating its enormous endowment into bold new pedagogical initiatives. The perennial complaint of faculty, staff, and students alike is that the university gleefully reports the enhancement of its endowment to outsiders, but is notably chary to most of its insiders. The university eagerly builds multimillion-dollar buildings, but gingerly bolsters only a few of its favorite new projects and programs.

        In the view of virtually every faculty member polled, the greatest obstacle to successful interdisciplinary teaching and research at Emory is the lack of sufficient funding from the university or access to funding sources through Emory's Institutional Advancement office. Some of Emory's strongest professors therefore spend a good deal of their research and teaching time outside Emory, funded by and working for other schools and institutes. Others spend an inordinate amount of their research and teaching time in pursuit of external funding, inevitably bowing to the prejudices and pressures of foundations and corporations.

        Emory is fiscally positioned to do much better than that. The establishment of yet another small fund of $100,000 to $500,000, with an open bidding process, is not the answer. Such funds, frankly, create more work than they are worth-both for the fund administrators and for the applicants. The university should instead create an Emory interdisciplinary fund in the amount of twenty to fifty million dollars or more and make ten to fifteen major grants for multiyear, interdisciplinary projects, centers, and programs at Emory. Funding of that magnitude will bring distinguished faculty back to Emory who now spend their time working with and for others outside the university. It will allow Emory to stake its own intellectual claim without bowing to any other school or foundation. Most important, it will foster powerful new interdisciplinary alliances among faculty, staff, and students.

    3. Long Term: The foregoing recommendations might be seen as interim steps to the creation of a Central Office for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Research. Such an office could house and integrate several of the offices described above, notably those of the vice provost/dean, university registrars, financial aid officers, and academic counselors supporting interdisciplinary teaching and study. The office also could provide a physical space to house university professors, to hold university seminars, and to host interdisciplinary discussions among faculty, staff, and students. It could provide a nerve center for initiating and integrating intrauniversity interdisciplinary grants-small grants to spark new interdisciplinary courses and major grants on the scale discussed in the previous section. In addition, it could provide a conduit for sponsoring proposals of new interdisciplinary projects.


    In forumulating its recommendations, the subcommittee used the results of random interviews of twenty-five college, graduate, and professional school students involved in interdisciplinary study; interviews or written reports from sixteen faculty and program directors involved in interdisciplinary study and teaching; unsolicited letters from twelve faculty; and reviews of published catalogues and annual reports of Emory University schools and divisions, 1994-1996.
    Table of Contents