Interdisciplinary Collaborations

As a university, we have an organizational structure that puts academic disciplines into colleges, schools and departments.  We know that in reality the world operates as a set of interdisciplinary, inter-connected, complex systems.  Real world problems are solved when we blur and cross disciplinary boundaries. 
It is evident that PSU faculty members embrace interdisciplinary collaborations–in research, team teaching, requiring courses or electives in programs other than your own, and in joint programs. There is no doubt that we will see an increased need and desire to bring different disciplinary perspectives together to advance knowledge, the way we look at things, and to help our students learn to understand the complex world we live in.

I know that interdisciplinary collaborations are not easily achieved. It takes hard work and there certainly are many obstacles that prevent it from happening.  It requires creativity, time, effort and a willingness among individuals to work together.  Some faculty members at PSU have expressed concern that our new model of performance-based budgeting (PBB) will make it harder for interdisciplinary collaborations. That it will set up a competition between units and create barriers for working together.   If that were to happen it would certainly be detrimental to our research and teaching efforts. A budget model should support, not undermine, what our faculty members believe to be important ways of working together.  
I would like to bust the myth that our recently adopted performance–based budgeting will result in the demise of interdisciplinary collaboration.  It will not.  In fact, unlike our prior model of incremental budgeting, PBB makes it possible to recognize and create collaborations within and across schools and colleges at PSU.  I have written a PBB issue brief on this topic to explain how this works.  The issue brief can be accessed off of the Finance and Administration’s PBB main site ( or directly at

I would like to hear if at any time an interdisciplinary collaboration you wish to do is thwarted by our budget model.  If that is the case, we need to work to revise the model to make it possible for collaborations to happen.


One thought on “Interdisciplinary Collaborations

  1. I'd sure like to believe that leadership would [simply] adjust expectations at the college level to address challenges associated with interdisciplinary collaborations. I could see something like that happening when the collaboration is large in scope like a joint school or a joint degree program. My concern regards small scale collaborations such as co-developed and co-taught interdisciplinary classes. I have done four such courses in the past, with enthusiastic support from department chairs and students. But these courses were not viewed positively by senior administrators whose perceptions of the courses were formed primarily by a row on a spreadsheet (showing, perhaps, a course section with lower numbers than would be typical for the college or school). If the person asked why, the explanation would make sense to them at that moment–that there were two sections for the course, in two different units, and that one of the instructors was in fact contributing their time to the project to keep the costs down. Nevertheless, the course sections in each of the units would remain forever high-lighted as poorly performing class sections. No one would remember long term that the course was collaborative and taught as an overload by one or both instructors. A few years back, I suggested that we create an “interdisciplinarity” metric to complement the more traditional SCH metrics. The idea was simple: for all of the students in a given unit, determine the ratio of the SCH they generate outside their unit to the SCH they generate within their unit. With help from Institutional Research we collected some data and studied the numbers. It seemed promising, but working out the details would have required a fair amount of effort, and there were many competing needs. One comment really stuck in my mind, “Instead of trying to create new metrics, why don’t you just go generate more credit hours? That’s the coin of the realm!”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s