In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

168 Chapter Abiding Interdisciplinarity: The Impact of Academic Contexts 6 Much of the rhetoric of interdisciplinarity concerns perceived indifference or outright hostility to interdisciplinary scholarship, resulting from skeptical disciplinary colleagues, rigid departmental structures, traditional promotion and tenure systems, and inflexible budgeting practices. Undoubtedly disciplinary structures can impede interdisciplinary scholarship, and faculty are sometimes dissuaded from pursuing interdisciplinary work by fears of unfavorable reviews from colleagues (see, for example, Birnbaum 1981a and Hurst 1992). Yet interdisciplinary teaching and research happens. What impact, then, do departmental and institutional environments have on interdisciplinarity? How does support or a lack of support for interdisciplinary scholarship influence faculty and their work? What role, if any, do administrators and colleagues play in encouraging or discouraging interdisciplinary efforts? In interviewing informants about institutional and departmental settings, I learned how they assessed these environments and how they believed the settings affected their work and academic lives. The overall picture is a complex one. Some informants gratefully acknowledged administrative support for interdisciplinarity while others enumerated institutional policies that hindered interdisciplinary teaching and research. Many complained of suspicious departmental colleagues, and some felt compelled to look outside 169 abiding interdisciplinarity their institution for the colleagueship of like-minded people. Others praised colleagues who supported their work and who advocated for interdisciplinary teaching and research projects. Some informants also perceived strong attitudes toward interdisciplinary work within their disciplinary communities and discussed how disciplinary associations created a national or international context that influenced perceptions and conduct of interdisciplinary scholarship. As I analyzed informants’ narratives about departments, institutions, and disciplines , I searched for patterns in perceptions of departmental, institutional, and disciplinary contexts and the extent of interdisciplinary engagement. The evidence suggests that while individuals recognized collegial and structural impediments, these did not alter their willingness to participate in interdisciplinary activities, teach interdisciplinary courses, or conduct interdisciplinary research. Had I interviewed faculty in general about participation in interdisciplinary activities, I may have found individuals who were discouraged by structural and/or collegial barriers. Other research, however, does not necessarily support this idea. In their review of the research and theory on motivation in college and university faculty, Blackburn and Lawrence (1995) argued that faculty do what they believe they are good at doing: intrinsic motivations and rewards often override external influences. The Academic Department as Context If the typical story about interdisciplinarity portrays academic departments and colleagues as obstacles to be surmounted, the informants in this study offered a more nuanced, even favorable, picture of departmental life. They recognized that some colleagues looked askance at interdisciplinary research and teaching but found others supportive and encouraging. A few described stressful tenure experiences with dismay and surprise, but the same individuals praised colleagues who supported them during trying reviews. Although research and experience suggest that disciplinary cultures typically adjust to fit the local circumstances (Austin 1990), observers of interdisciplinarity have rarely looked closely at these specific contexts to understand their influence on individuals and on interdisciplinary scholarship. According to informants, particular institutions had reputations for openness or resistance to interdisciplinarity. These reputations were often validated as individuals within the same institution offered similar assessments of the creating interdisciplinarity 170 climate for interdisciplinarity in their departments and institutions. At the research university informants regarded their departments as open to interdisciplinarity ; they felt colleagues both tolerated and appreciated different interdisciplinary perspectives and innovation. A tenured political scientist commented: One of the things that makes this department really good for somebody who does interdisciplinary work is that it’s always been rated as one of the top departments [in political science] and I think as a result has felt less constrained by the norms of what it is that everybody else is doing. It felt more free to say, “Oh, that’s interesting work. We’d like to have one of those.” [L] A new assistant professor who depicted himself as “not particularly radical” happily described the welcome he received from his departmental colleagues. His appreciation of various perspectives—”I believe in traditional stuff as much as I believe in contemporary methods”—appeared to work in his favor: This department is fairly traditional in its approach, but it’s also fairly large and very broad based. The department is careful to have people who represent different perspectives. They want students to be trained, conventionally , but they also want students to be open to more cutting-edge things. They felt they could talk to me—they mentioned this was one of the reasons for hiring me. It’s very collegial...


Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.