Provost's Blog: Multidisciplinary: Yesterday’s “Buzz Word”

Posted on September 17, 2015 by Rick Koubek, Interim Vice President and Provost

Multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary, T-shaped researchers. We have all heard the terms. There was a time when working across disciplinary boundaries seemed new and avant-garde. Imagine a person in music collaborating with someone in physics.

That was then. Now I sometimes feel rhetorical when talking about how LSU values interdisciplinary activity. Who doesn’t value collaboration? We certainly have some wonderful examples on campus. The LSU coastal effort is one such role model. From the School of Coast and the Environment, to the Coastal Studies Institute and the Coastal Sustainability Studio, these groups defy disciplinary boundaries to address the complex problems of our coast. The Center for Computation Technology (CCT), likewise, has created an environment where physicists and musicians work together in areas such as high performance computing. Even the Office of Research and Economic Development has embraced the notion of intersecting disciplines by creating the Director of Creative and Digital Initiatives position.

With these examples, I beg the question: Has LSU created an environment free from disciplinary barriers? An article in the LSU Faculty Senate newsletter last year caught my eye when Dr. Cope suggested that we should go as far as rotating deans and faculty around to different colleges! While dramatic in effect, it does make the point. We have work to do.

At its essence, the “multi/trans/inter-disciplinary” is about “community.” It is about supporting scholars who view themselves as members of greater, engaged community. And we know the term community is fundamental to Louisiana and LSU (our local coffee even carries the namesake.)

I appreciate that this initiative brings more questions than answers at this point. I also know that this idea runs the risk of passive obsolesce by being viewed as “another thing” added to your many other responsibilities. But, there is a certain appeal in imagining the possibilities of university-wide collective impact. And it is provocative to think of challenging the structures and breaking the practices that inhibit the cross-pollination of ideas. So, what must we do to overcome the institutional inertia and change the stakes that hold the status quo in place?

In the coming months, the Office of Academic Affairs in partnership with LSU’s Graduate School will host coffee conversations designed to be informal gatherings on how we can continue building our community in unique and innovate ways. I hope you will join us.  


 

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August 2015: What It Means to Be Interim