The 2000 Reaccreditation Report
For the 2000 reaccreditation review, the University of Michigan included the topic of “Interdisciplinarity” for its self-study. An extensive report was produced, titled “New Opening for the Research University: Advancing Collaborative, Integrative, and Interdisciplinary Research and Learning,” presenting key findings and recommendations from four working groups that contributed to this self-study: the Working Group on Faculty, the Working Group on Graduate and Professional Studies, the Working Group on Research, and the Working Group on Undergraduate Teaching and Learning. These groups made both major and minor recommendations, many of which the University has subsequently acted upon. The main recommendations from the 2000 self-study report are below.
- Support faculty development with attention to career-stage specific issues affecting the climate for interdisciplinary activity.
- Enhance confidence among faculty members in interdisciplinary positions in the promotion and tenure review process.
- Support leadership training for chairs and directors with respect to the interdisciplinary interests of the faculty.
Graduate and Professional Studies
- Create better communication, coordination, and information in support of graduate and professional students interested in interdisciplinary work.
- Enhance the management of interdisciplinary and interdepartmental graduate and professional programs.
- Support faculty leadership in the development of interdisciplinary and interdepartmental programs.
- Take steps to encourage interdisciplinary and interdepartmental programs and training.
- Support interdisciplinary faculty members in their pursuit of excellence and empower interdisciplinary research connections among them.
- Strengthen administrative coordination with regard to interdisciplinary research.
Undergraduate Teaching and Learning
- Address and remedy specific barriers to collaborative teaching.
- Develop ways to assess learning outcomes of interdisciplinary teaching.
- Create thematically-organized clusters of courses that allow students to explore different disciplines.
- Facilitate a system of internal fellowships for faculty for the purpose of developing new courses of study.
The Self-Study on Interdisciplinarity
The main recommendations and a summary of the Higher Learning Commission’s evaluation team findings are described in their spring 2000 HLC report. A summary of the evaluation team recommendations focusing on interdisciplinarity is below.
Accreditation Evaluation Team Recommendations
The 2000 accreditation review team’s list of findings and recommendations has been revised from the original report to specify the University’s and the evaluation team’s emphasis on interdisciplinary programs, on students in interdisciplinary programs or with interdisciplinary interests, on faculty in interdisciplinary appointments or with interdisciplinary interests, and on overall interdisciplinary coordination. They are:
- Work toward more uniform and transparent promotion and tenure procedures for interdisciplinary faculty members.
- Develop equitable ways to evaluate scholarship and teaching.
- Foster interdisciplinary faculty collaboration, and engage interdisciplinary faculty members in strategic planning.
- Improve mentoring of graduate students in interdisciplinary programs and junior faculty members in interdisciplinary appointments.
- Build infrastructure for interdisciplinary initiatives in undergraduate education.
- Periodically review all interdisciplinary programs and consider eliminating programs that underperform.
- Foster administrative coordination and equity (e.g., in sharing indirect costs between units).
- Collect more timely and accurate data (e.g., of graduate students) in comparison to students in single disciplines.
Interdisciplinary Enhancements and Initiatives since 2000
Out of an embedded institutional commitment to interdisciplinarity and in response to the University working group recommendations and the evaluation team comments, a host of activities have been undertaken at the University of Michigan since 2000. The main activities are below, the most relevant of which will be discussed in more detail in other sections of the 2010 reaccreditation report.
Interdisciplinary Junior Faculty Initiative. In 2007, President Coleman committed $30 million to the schools and colleges to hire 100 new junior faculty members in areas that advance interdisciplinary teaching and research as part of the Interdisciplinary Junior Faculty Initiative. Through these new faculty positions, the University is better able to recruit faculty with emerging research interests and to enhance interdisciplinary teaching by tenure track faculty.
Joint academic appointment guidelines and resources. In 2004, the Office of the Provost published an online set of guidelines and resource documents for joint academic appointments to help the schools and colleges and the provost’s office to make processes related to joint faculty appointments as clear and direct as those for faculty with appointments in a single school or college. The guidelines provide a set of principles for joint academic appointments; recommended practices for joint academic appointments with respect to initial appointments, appointment changes, and faculty review processes; practices for special cases; and a set of related resources.
Revision of faculty promotion guidelines with regard to interdisciplinary faculty. In addition, the provost’s office has recently modified in two ways its faculty promotion guidelines for faculty who hold interdisciplinary appointments. Starting with the 2008-09 academic year, the provost’s office provides separate sample solicitation letters for faculty with non-interdisciplinary appointments and faculty with interdisciplinary appointments. Beginning with the 2009-10 academic year, with regard to units’ documentation of a faculty member’s teaching effectiveness and research for the promotion dossier, the guidelines remind the academic units to comment on the faculty member’s contributions to interdisciplinary teaching and research.
Chair and Associate Dean Leadership Program. To supplement the chair training efforts of the schools and colleges, the provost’s office established an academic leadership program in 2007 that consists of separate orientation programs for new department chairs and associate deans. In addition, a set of roundtable sessions is offered over the course of each academic year for all department chairs and associate deans. Roundtable topics have included developing and carrying out a departmental vision, assessment of student learning, conflict resolution, faculty hiring and retention, and dealing with difficult people.
Graduate and Professional Studies
Interdisciplinary (and dual-degree) academic programs and certificates. The Rackham Graduate School offers a wide range of interdisciplinary academic programs, including certificates and dual degree programs, many of them cross-unit. Since the 2000 reaccreditation review, Rackham has approved numerous additional certificates and programs. To name a few, these include certificates in Plasma Science and Engineering; International Health; Science, Technology & Society; as well as dual degree programs in nursing and public health, business and education, the medical school and public policy, and microbiology/immunology and epidemiology.
Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshops. The Rackham School of Graduate Studies sponsors an ongoing program of interdisciplinary graduate student and faculty workshops. This program has two goals: to encourage exchange and collaboration among students and faculty who share intellectual interests but may not have an easily available forum because they have different academic affiliations, and to help advanced doctoral students to form working groups that support the development of research projects and dissertation writing. The groups must identify an interdisciplinary goal or end product, be participant-organized, have an ongoing core membership, and meet regularly throughout the academic year. A list of current workshops is available online.
Rackham Graduate School - Cantor Seminars. To honor former University Provost Nancy Cantor, the Rackham Graduate School provided funds for a series of semester-long seminars, in each of which about a dozen doctoral students enrolled. The aim of the seminars was to focus on three of Cantor’s main commitments: interdisciplinarity, diversity, and public goods. For example, a recent seminar, “Thinking About Culture,” was taught by two faculty members in the Departments of English and History.
Provost’s Seminar on Teaching. As part of the annual Provost’s Seminar on Teaching program, in 2004 the provost hosted a seminar on the topic, “Our Undergraduates’ New Challenges: Navigating the Multidisciplinary University.”
Seed funds for research and scholarship. The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) offers support for research, scholarship, and creative activities in all fields, including funds to help seed inter-unit projects. OVPR invites proposals for specific areas of interdisciplinary research, among other purposes and research needs. These areas currently include Global Health Research and Funding, which encourages proposals from interdisciplinary research projects and teams, and the Collaborative Research in Energy Science, Technology, and Policy, which solicits project proposals to develop a better understanding of the interplay between the various parts of the energy system so that the Seventy Percent Solution (reducing the nation’s production of greenhouse gas production by 70%) can be realized.
New interdisciplinary institutes. Two examples of new interdisciplinary institutes that were established since 2000 are:
In the fall of 2005, the University announced the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute (GESI). With joint sponsorship from the Graham Foundation and the University, GESI is a collaborative partnership of nine schools and colleges. The institute fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration to create and disseminate knowledge and to offer solutions related to complex environmental sustainability issues.
In the fall of 2006, the University announced the commitment of $9 million toward the creation of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute (MMPEI), with additional support from the College of Engineering, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and the Rackham Graduate School. With schools and colleges in business, medicine, law, public policy and engineering, the University of Michigan is in a strong position to host the MMPEI because of the interdisciplinary nature of energy research.
Undergraduate Teaching and Learning
Multidisciplinary Learning and Team-teaching Initiative. In the fall of 2005, President Mary Sue Coleman committed $2.5 million to support new team-teaching efforts and develop interdisciplinary degree programs at the undergraduate level. Over four years, the Multidisciplinary Learning and Team-Teaching (MLTT) Steering Committee approved funding for numerous courses and programs that affect hundreds of students each term. Funded proposals include such offerings as Problem of the Day, Sustainable and Fossil Energy: Options and Consequences, Creative Processes, and Applied Complex Systems: Emergent Challenges. The MLTT initiative also helped to create a number of minors and programs, including an undergraduate concentration in Informatics and a multidisciplinary minor in Community Action and Social Change.
New interdisciplinary concentrations (majors) and minors. Prior to the creation of the MLLT-supported programs mentioned above, a highly successful example of other interdisciplinary offerings is the Program in the Environment, which represents a fast-growing area of study, both at the University and around the world. The program offers a concentration (major), a minor and a cross-disciplinary range of courses for undergraduate students. Another example is the Global Change Minor, which offers a broad understanding of the societal challenges that humanity is facing and of the need to develop strategies toward a sustainable relationship with our planet and its resources.
Search feature in LSA course guide for interdisciplinary courses. In its online student course guide, LSA now offers an interdisciplinary course search option, better enabling student to select interdisciplinary (“ID”) courses that meet general education (distribution) requirements.
Assessment of interdisciplinary offerings. With funding from the Multidisciplinary Learning and Team Teaching Initiative (MLTT), the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) is collaborating with departments and faculty teams to conduct longitudinal assessment to assess student learning and to help improve faculty pedagogy for interdisciplinary offerings. Results are just appearing, but seem to paint a very positive picture of the student experience.