Jul. 31, 2022

 

Campus rhythms change in the summer. Many are cherishing time off and travel that maybe has been a long time in coming, given that we have moved into a period of getting out and about more or less in the way we had before the pandemic (never mind the recent challenges with flight cancellations and even having my flight diverted to Palm Springs for nine hours recently owing to incredible thunderstorms around LAS that even frightened our pilot). But I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with many associate deans for research, deans, and also within our office here to discuss and plan around the opportunities and needs, including those surrounding interdisciplinary research. The good will that is pointed towards making interdisciplinary research thrive here runs deep. But making it thrive is one of the great opportunities and challenges facing higher education. Universities that learn how to perform interdisciplinary research well will be those that assert research and educational leadership this century. But don’t just take my word for it. I know this point of view is one that many of you share, and it is reflected in the strategies and programs of federal agencies.

Scholars also reflect on what it means to be deeply interdisciplinary, and how to best approach it as universities. It challenges the very organizational and reward structures of academia: departments are created along disciplinary lines, and incentives for rewarding research and scholarship understandably tend to reinforce discipline-specific research endeavors. And yet, the times present us with societal challenges that span the disciplines and demand that we look at how we work across them, and reward success in doing so even as we strive to be excellent in the disciplines themselves.
 
This fall, we will be welcoming new faculty into our midst, bright young people who understand they are part of building new interdisciplinary communities of research and scholarship. They “get it” when it comes to interdisciplinary. All of our new faculty are joining an important effort that includes but goes beyond them. We have an opportunity, and a challenge, to build on the excellence we already have here and to create communities of interdisciplinary excellence. I am convinced that any obstacles that we may have in promoting this kind of work can be addressed. After all, these obstacles were created by people, so people can modify how we work to make interdisciplinarity thrive. In addition, we are not starting from scratch. For example, we have a graduate college with exceptional past and present leadership that is steeped in experience in developing and administering interdisciplinary programs. We have a deep reservoir of talent such as our Associate Deans for Research who are driven to make this work. We have a Division of Research with an expanding capacity and rich talent base that is rising to the challenge of managing more and more complex proposals, successfully monitoring their execution, and ensuring safe research operations. And, we are about to deepen our work in the Division to ensure that we have processes that scale to higher research intensity and complexity. If we all stay focused on this overarching goal of embracing research in a complex world that demands attention from across the disciplines, UNLV will rise to the occasion and meet our obligations in education and public service.