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Enhancing Impact on the World

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Georgetown’s distinctive and deeply-rooted attributes have enabled it to thrive over its rich 200-year history. The university’s Catholic and Jesuit values, commitment to academic excellence, capital-city DC location, global legacies, and abiding sense of community have empowered and guided the progress of a well-established, student-centered research university. These enduring attributes have enabled a thriving highly selective undergraduate program and have powered the outsized ambitions of a relatively small institution among the world’s great universities.

The 21st century university has greater demands from society than ever before. Georgetown has the ingredients to thrive in this environment. The Jesuit mission of “setting the world on fire,” of “contemplation in action,” and of “women and men for others” is real at Georgetown. Many come here in order to use their lives in service towards a better world regardless of their faith beliefs. Any vision of the future for this community should create ever-stronger activities and structures that enhance the mission of service to others. “Values-Based Solutions to the World’s Problems” thus should be a fundamental centerpiece of a vision.

This focus requires unusual reliance on academic excellence to act as a magnet for the best minds to be at Georgetown. Fulfilling the mission of women and men for others in an increasingly complex but interconnected world will demand cutting-edge knowledge from all the disciplines and fields that constitute the modern university. This means that faculty must be thought-leaders in their fields and engage with the best students in combining their expertise with those from other fields. It means that we must build environments where out-of-the-box solutions and high failure tolerance will be supported.

There are few better geographical locations to a mission of “Values-Based Solutions to the World’s Problems” than Washington, DC. It is the home of the central government of one of the world’s great societies. It is the home of scores of international non-governmental organizations and national governmental research organizations who themselves are devoted to common goods. Georgetown is centered within this global city and is better positioned than most to play an important role in tackling problems on a global scale.

Universities have the task of formation of their students’ minds, bodies, and spirits. Universities have the societal obligation to foster ongoing inquiry that advances human knowledge. Universities advance the common good. Formation at Georgetown arms students with understanding of domains of timeless knowledge, the fundamental questions, animating values of life, basic theories, and conceptual frameworks about how the world works. The core curricula deliberately include foundational knowledge useful in countless applications throughout life. Unsurprisingly, Georgetown, like all universities, organized itself into relatively homogeneous departments, fields, and schools.

If Georgetown retains only the traditional disciplinary units, it risks deemphasizing the focus on solving world problems. On the other hand, if it organized itself only by units devoted to different world problems, it risks losing advancement of the basic disciplines key to future world problems. It must do both.

There are probably many different ways to achieve this. One vision is an organization that permits dual citizenship of faculty and students in both discipline/school units, but also in university-wide centers and institutes whose missions are totally focused on a given world problem. Some centers and institutes (i.e., collections of centers) would likely be enduring over many decades (e.g., an institute on racial justice); others might have shorter lives. The centers would have faculty research appointments of variable duration; the centers would be filled with student (both undergraduate and graduate) affiliates, working side-by-side with the faculty. These institutes would offer credit-bearing courses for minors and majors affiliated with the disciplines contributing to the solution. The units would form partnerships with global institutions in the Washington area, to enhance the likelihood that Georgetown-invented solutions would actually be implemented. The centers and institutes would have space devoted to them, with offices for faculty, carrels for graduate students, design spaces, ideation laboratories, computational facilities – all forming a home for those wanting to work together and teach one another within interdisciplinary groups solving the world’s problems. Whether permanent or transitory, creating opportunities for faculty and students to work side-by-side in this manner is key for our future impact.

None of these ideas can proceed with success without continuing to strengthen the traditional disciplines of our faculty and students. Indeed, working collaboratively on the world’s problems without deep knowledge of individual fields eliminates the value of collaboration. However, with such collaboration our service to the common good can be greatly enhanced.

Progress: Fast and Slow

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Kahneman’s book, Thinking: Fast and Slow, spread to a broad audience the cognitive psychological research findings that humans have capabilities to make very quick decisions based on superficial review of the merits of alternatives. These decisions rest on generalization of past experience to a specific newly-encountered phenomenon. These fast decisions serve us well, except when the new phenomenon exhibits key differences, which, upon deeper and slower reflection, dominate the tradeoff decision.

The book seems to have an analog in societal-level decision making. Over the past few years “fast” seems to dominate over “slow.” Our communications and information flow are faster than ever before — texts, instant messaging, news alerts, an hourly news cycle, digital platforms disrupting the print media. The length of the communicated message tends to be shorter than before; book-length writing is a smaller portion of the communication volume. The speed of technological change seems breathless at times, far outpacing the typical density of change based on basic research. The private sector touts “failing fast,” and moving on to a new challenge if the old isn’t achieved. CEOs of publicly-traded firms feel the pressure of quarterly profits much more than pressure on the health of the firm 10 to 20 years out.

Some of the increased pace is wonderful and has produced positive change for individuals and societies throughout the world. But increasingly, I begin to worry about what innovation, what improvements, such a culture might not support.

Last week, as part of my National Science Board duties, I visited the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) facility outside of Baton Rouge. This facility was key in detecting gravitational waves from colliding black holes in 2015 and from the collision of two neutron stars more recently. It was connected with the awarding of Nobel Prizes recently. It exemplifies the opposite of “fast” in one important sense. The vision of LIGO was set before the 1980’s, with initial funding. There was, as with all breakthrough ideas, with all deeply reflective thinking, opposition. The project was high risk. Once built, the facility detected nothing at all of consequence for seven full years. Consistent attention to improving the quality of the measurement yielded success in 2015, nearly 30 years after inception of the idea. Far from fast.

Another example: In 2002, the idea of building longitudinal data sets, based on student records, that would allow researchers to track the experiences of children in school was formed. Better understanding of the drivers of performance was sought by studying the progress of students over years, seeing whether it varied greatly by different teachers and schools, and measuring their job experiences after they left school. The US Department of Education sponsored the construction of such longitudinal record systems, creating a data infrastructure, taking many years and millions of dollars. Now the states and the country have data resources to answer questions about the performance of educational institutions they never had before.

A final example: Data infrastructure is not unlike physical infrastructure. In the 1950’s the plan for the interstate highway system was a vast investment, building capacity that was not fully needed at the time, but the infrastructure led to vast economic and social changes in the country. A decision was made by people, some of whom would not be alive when the benefits of the decision were achieved.

In short, one of the distinctions between fast and slow payoff often centers around who will benefit. The impact of technology on the speed of much human activity may be making it more difficult to gain support for common good activities whose payoff may be years away. The examples above make the case that some benefits require patient, consistent, adaptive effort over many years. Their benefits to human society, however, seem so important that they deserve our stopping and reflecting about how much time we spend on the immediate and how much time we focus on the long term.

Promoting the Interdisciplinary Faculty Member

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One of the most important features of the academy is its relentless pursuit of answers to new questions. There are no bounds to this quest; scholars pose questions regardless of their relevance to the mainline questions in their discipline. Many of the unexplored knowledge domains, however, mix traditional units of the academy, and every university is examining ways that scholarship across the units can be valued in faculty reviews. Hence, a common problem facing universities is how the tenure and promotion process can fairly evaluate scholarship that combines multiple fields.

We have recently redefined the types of joint appointments possible at Georgetown. Some of these speak to how joint appointment candidates will be evaluated at time of tenure and promotion.

Upon reflection, it may be time to become more specific on the practices involved in evaluating joint appointment candidates. Here are some initial speculations.

First might be comments on advice to give to assistant professors whose scholarship bridges two (or more) different fields. For economy of language, let’s call the interdisciplinary domain the “bridge field” and the constituent domains the “mainline field.” Mainline fields tend to be important in defining the central important questions to be pursued; they have agreed upon forms of research output (e.g., proceedings papers, journal articles, books) with attendant prestige rankings. They generally have their own professional societies, whose set of awards for success manifest the values of the field and define what an “important contribution to the field” means.

An assistant professor working in an area that combines two mainline fields usually has fewer publication outlets that support the bridge area than the mainline fields. However, those outlets will have a peer review process that respects the blending of two fields together. Correspondingly, the flagship journals in the two mainline fields will publish fewer such articles. Further, it is common that the prestige of the bridge field publication outlets is lower because of their relative newness.

A good piece of advice to a junior scholar blending two fields is to attempt some publications in the single mainline fields as well as in the bridge field outlets. Typically, I would expect a strong interdisciplinary candidate to have proportionately fewer products in outlets of the two mainline fields and more in the bridge domain. On the other hand, a scholar with no contribution to the mainline field risks the criticism that he/she is not really enriching one or the other of the mainline fields. In essence, there should be an expectation of being evaluated both from the bridge area and the mainline fields. Help in navigating the blending of fields is often obtained from professional associations that have arisen blending the two fields together. Junior scholars should reach out to senior scholars in the bridge field to get advice on how to blend together the fields effectively.

It is common that young scholars working in interdisciplinary areas are involved in more team-based work than those working only in a mainline field. For that reason, Georgetown needs to develop more effective ways of determining relative contributions of team members. Other things being equal, one would expect that scholars working in teams would produce more research products (albeit jointly authored) than those working alone.

At the time of promotion review, Georgetown has an obligation to make sure that senior peer scholars are carefully evaluating the candidate. For candidates who are blending multiple fields together, we need to assemble outside reviewers who represent the two mainline fields, but we also need senior successful evaluators from the bridge. The letters requesting external reviews should note that Georgetown has appointed and supported the scholar in building a bridge between the fields, and that it seeks evaluation of the scholarship in light of that fact. (We should note that we expect that the amount of product contribution to only one of the fields is less than that of someone totally embedded in the field, but that the contributions that are present to be of high quality.) Those letter writers who themselves work in the bridge field should comment on the candidate’s contribution to the bridge and the candidate’s performance relative to others working in the bridge area.

On the Georgetown side, we need evaluation processes that similarly offer peer review of the scholarship in the bridge area. If the units involved in the joint appointment don’t possess deep knowledge in the bridge area, we should repair that weakness with more external review from senior scholars in the bridge area.

As we attempt to improve our evaluation of interdisciplinary scholarship, we have other questions that need answering. How can new faculty communicate their intention to blend together fields so that the university can provide useful evaluative feedback throughout their pre-tenure years? How can Georgetown assist pretenure faculty in getting mentoring for their attempts to bridge multiple fields? How can we publicly honor successful interdisciplinary scholarship to offer role models to younger faculty? How can Georgetown incentivize interdisciplinary groups to work together?

Changes in Students over Decades

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I’ve been in many meetings over the past few weeks with senior administrators from other universities. Our discussions often contain observations about how newer cohorts of students appear to differ from earlier ones.

Some of this discussion pertains to countable volumes of student services. For example, it is common across universities in the past few years to see an increase in student demand for mental health services. It’s common that student accommodations for testing and other educational activities are increasing.

It’s also common for faculty to comment on the constant internet connectedness of our students (and themselves), with jokes about students running into one another walking across campus as they stare at their mobile phone screens. Increasingly, there are observations that students are talking less to each other, as the grid intervenes in social relations more fully.

These latter comments are the casual observations of campus life by those who’ve been around for a while.

I began to wonder whether there were any consistent measures that might answer the question of how current students different from earlier cohorts. This was really an attempt to understand more fully the casual observations we all make.

Former colleagues have been measuring the attitudes and behaviors of high school seniors for some time, as part of the Monitoring the Future research program, funded by parts of the National Institutes of Health. Periodic self-administered surveys are conducted of high school seniors in a national sample of schools, attempting to represent the entire population of seniors. I downloaded statistics for the subset of those seniors who say they were planning to attend college after high school, for the year 1996 survey and the year 2012 survey. I perused the findings looking for attributes that show large differences between the 1996 cohort and 2012 cohort.

Perhaps one of the most interesting changes is the decline in the percentages of high school seniors who were currently working for pay – in 1996, 59%; in 2012, 41%. The survey has little detail on what kind of work for pay the high school seniors were engaged in, but other questions imply that the amount of experience in work settings for entering cohorts of college students is different now than in earlier years. With somewhat smaller differences, the 1996 cohort reports spending more time with adults (over 30) on a typical day than the 2012 cohort. Further, more of the 2012 seniors spend an hour or more of leisure time alone, in a typical day, than the 1996 cohort. A possible correlate of less work for pay (and the resulting less discretionary cash) is that the 2012 cohort reports less frequent social activities in “bars and nightclubs” than the earlier cohort. Relative to the 1996 cohort fewer of the 2012 seniors find a career built on self-employment as desirable. Obviously, the causal links among these different attributes are unknown, but one can see a consistent pattern among them.
One weakness of the time comparison is that the 1996 survey understandably has no measure of internet connectivity, but 74% of the 2010 seniors planning to go to college report social media use every day. Some of the greater reported “alone” time is probably filled with such activity.

With smaller portions of entering students having experience in work organizations, one might suspect that the lessons one learns in such situations need to be a more intentional part of the undergraduate experience. Some of the moves Georgetown is making toward experience-based, group learning built around real-world projects seem attractive in this regard. Working in teams, with requirements of rich interpersonal interaction, with a mix of adults and student collaborators, might be more valuable for the incoming stude

Formation, Inquiry, and Service to the Common Good

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I just returned from a meeting of the Provosts of the Jesuit colleges and universities across the US. It is a wonderful event each year, giving those of us who serve in these unusual roles a chance to compare notes, to share our joys and sorrows inherent in any such position, and to renew our aspirations for our institutions. At the meeting, we deliberately take time to share questions with each other and provide advice when we’re confident of it.

The institutions around the table display many differences. Some are singularly focused on undergraduate education; others have graduate programs in diverse fields. Some are quite small; some are quite large. Some serve predominantly first-generation populations and adult learners in a region; others attract students nationally and internationally. Despite these vast differences, I come away each year with a renewed sense of the commonalities among the institutions.

One of the differences between this set of institutions and others in higher education is their focused devotion to the formation of the next generation devoted to service to the common good. Most all take this seriously, with programs designed to expose students to the real lives of those less fortunate than others. Sometimes this takes place within nearby neighborhoods; sometimes in other countries far from the campus.

A common challenge that we all face is to continuously adapt these efforts to the changing cohorts of students coming to our institutions and to the changes in higher education occurring throughout the country. All of us face issues of keeping tuition as low as possible while still permitting innovation. All of us face increasing numbers of students who have lived their lives in relatively homogeneous neighborhoods, schools, and larger communities. All of us face increasing numbers of students with relatively few “real-life” experiences in the working world.

These cross-cutting pressures have created more intentional integration of the mission of nurturing women and men for others into the academic curriculum. Some institutions have built degree programs that allow deep learning into the field of social justice (similar to Georgetown’s Justice and Peace Studies Program). Others have built elaborate immersive experiences exposing students to communities previously unknown to them.

Increasingly common are attempts to integrate such experiences into the academic curriculum more fully. These seek to use the value of mentored experiences combining students with faculty. They construct an intersection of research activities with such outreach efforts. In short, these are efforts to break down an artificial barrier between the curricular and co-curricular.

It became obvious in our meeting that the value of these efforts is magnified by integrating into them the Jesuit mission of the institution. That mission answers the question of the “why” of these research, education, and service efforts. Those values also answer the question of why it is so important to integrate the three efforts seamlessly into the experience of the students. At a moment when all higher education institutions are seeking global impact, the secret sauce of Jesuit institutions is that they know why they want to have global impact, with answers animated by a 500-year tradition.

Moving Ahead on the Institute for Racial Justice

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Over the past year, the Working Group on Racial Justice of faculty, staff, and students implemented decisions relayed in President DeGioia’s speech of February 4. The working group completed its report in the Spring, and President DeGioia approved its recommendations early in the Summer.

Much of the work of the working group focused on the conceptualization of a new Institute for Racial Justice, a university-level institute that would further the research and outreach initiatives of the University. We identified a set of scholars across the university, active in research and outreach relevant to racial justice, including health equity, D.C.-focused research, performance studies and racial justice, prisoners and justice, and race and migration. We expect that large numbers of them will want to affiliate with the Institute when it is functioning. We have mounted a series of external speakers to visit campus over the coming weeks, to heighten attention to such areas.

The working group conceived of an institute that would be a coalition of research programs with different foci. Key themes would examine racial injustice through research on inequalities (e.g., health, education, income, employment, housing, family, environment) and seek justice through research on social structures (e.g., legal, governmental, education systems, medicine, policy, voting, etc.). Broadly, these are:

  • Disparities, Inequality and Difference. What are the sources and dimensions of enduring racial disparities in areas such as health, education, income, housing and employment? How should we understand the impact of family structures and environmental conditions on social and political outcomes? What are the long-term trends and future projections that define racial inequality in the United States?
  • Structures and Solutions. What legal or political structures perpetuate injustice along racial lines? What proven solutions seem to work in areas such as education and medicine to alleviate the power of race as a determinant to community trajectories? How might areas such as banking and voting regulations be transformed to enable full participation in markets and elections?
  • Diasporas, Migrations, Expressions. To what degree is the U.S. experience of race a national, a continental, or even a global phenomenon? How do cognate ways of perceiving and structuring the world, such as ethnicity and gender, intersect with the past and present? Under what conditions do other social groups and structures around the world, such as religion, become “racialized?” How can we understand and analyze the monumental cultural products of the African American experience and their connections to the struggle for justice?

In addition, the group proposed a set of joint appointments of scholars whose work would propel forward scholarship, collectively making Georgetown one of the world’s premier locations for studies and outreach furthering racial justice. These will likely be multi-year searches targeting senior faculty members with well-regarded scholarly work on racial justice and experience in building research teams. Since the institute will be a university-level entity, we seek scholars who might have affiliations with one of more of the campuses. We will launch searches designed to yield four new faculty members with 50% appointments as research professors in the institute and 50% as tenured professors in other academic units.

Over the next few days, an email from the Executive Vice Presidents (EVPs) will seek proposals from academic units (e.g., schools, departments, interdisciplinary degree programs) for new tenured faculty appointments furthering our work on the institute. These will be vetted by a faculty advisory committee representing all three campuses. The committee’s recommendations for searches will be submitted to the EVPs and the searches then launched.

Our goal is bringing to Georgetown the best scholars in the world working in the areas above. Simultaneously we will build out structures and seek external financial support for the institute. I personally look forward to the submission of proposals for new faculty that will help us build the institute.

Formation and Career Guidance for PhD Students

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Following an external review of the Cawley Career Center, the Office of the Provost has decided to separate the activities of career advising for undergraduates from those for graduate students. Cawley will in the future focus on undergraduate services for career counseling. We have appointed an implementation team to tackle the problem of building career counseling services for graduate students.

Masters programs seem to have distinct needs from PhD programs. The issues for career guidance of PhD students are changing as universities change. By definition, PhD programs are designed to educate the next generation of scholars in a field. They will be the ones who will generate new insights, building on the work of the current generation. They will be the ones to expand knowledge domains.

Most PhD programs were established to create the next generation of academics. Indeed, national studies suggest that most PhD students begin their studies with the goal of entering a tenure-line academic career. They aspire to follow in the footsteps of their undergraduate faculty who encouraged them to enter a PhD program. As their studies proceed, they seek out role models among their graduate faculty in order to shape their desired blend of research, teaching, and service. They imagine themselves 10 years hence as living very similar lives as those who mentor them.

In turn, the faculty guiding the studies of PhD students themselves are quite familiar with the nature of academic job markets, with the protocols for vetting job candidates for new assistant professor positions, the culture of job talks, and visits to a candidate campus. They know what departments are strong in their field and, often, what departments have strong supportive cultures and which departments are exhibiting internal conflicts. Good mentors of PhD students convey these features of academic life in many informal meetings and conference introductions over the years of the student’s experience. For many, they are replicating the very same experience they had as a PhD student.

Unfortunately, there is no system in the US that calibrates the supply of completed PhD’s with the demand for their knowledge and skills. In some fields, the likelihood that a PhD student eventually achieves a full professorship with tenure is small and declining. In these fields, the supply of newly minted PhD’s vastly exceeds the demand for new assistant professors. Hence, it is common that, within a few years of observing the job outcomes of more senior PhD students, a good portion of PhD students begin considering nonacademic career options.

Some PhD programs have altered their focus to a more nonacademic direction. The best such programs develop ties with commercial entities or nonprofit institutions that require PhD level staff. The faculty of the program thus take on the same career counseling role but for nonacademic careers. When some of the faculty in the program have real-world experience in such organizations, they can offer valuable advice about what the course of a career might be, how to translate research experiences on campus to the needs of the organization, etc.

At Georgetown, we pride ourselves on careful attention to the formation of our students. For the good of their graduates, faculty where increasing portions of their PhD graduates enter nonacademic careers necessarily assume new obligations for helping their students find their way in the nonacademic job market. Some issues are common across fields (e.g., how to translate a curriculum vitae into a commercial résumé, the anatomy of a private sector job interview). These might be ripe for common services at Georgetown for all interested PhD students. Others are quite specific to the types of nonacademic organizations hiring PhD’s from a particular discipline. These are worth discussion and deliberation among our faculty, asking the serious question of how well we are serving our PhD students, as they enter the nonacademic job market.

Moving across the Schools

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Conversations with students often challenge our preconceptions of how knowledge is best transmitted within a university. A common lament that I hear is that the organizational barriers to accessing knowledge outside of one’s unit are too large. The students question why they are prevented from enrolling in a course of great relevance to their life’s ambitions that is offered in another unit.

Of course, there are quite legitimate reasons for restricting the enrollment in some courses to a subset of students. First, the course may be a second or third in a sequence of classes that successively build upon one another. Taking the second course without the knowledge from the first course would produce unusual challenges for the student. Second, sometimes a course is required for a certified major or specialty area. Giving some preference to those students in the major makes sense. (However, if the demand for the class from other students is large, it’s incumbent on the university to consider opening another section of the course.)

But there are also reasons for restricting enrollment that are difficult to justify, at least from a provostial view. One of these is a culture of strong identity within a school, which breeds a belief that all the resources of the school should be limited to those students pursuing a degree from the school. While such esprit de corps is laudable, permitting it to breed an exclusivity about course offerings is misplaced, I’d argue.

The second reason that is offered is that the budget model of units does not permit reacting to student demands from other schools or units. This is the common concern across universities, but it merits attention among those who make these budget allocations. All academic specialties have required courses and elective courses. The university should eliminate barriers for a student to take relevant elective courses wherever they are offered in the university, to the maximum extent possible. The revenue flows should be worked out in an equitable way.

There are also reasons why permitting such movement is good for both students and faculty. A class with diverse backgrounds brings with it differing perspectives. When those perspectives reveal themselves in group assignments, class discussions, or study groups, everyone in the class benefits. Faculty are encouraged to use diverse examples to illustrate theoretical points, and students learn faster when heterogeneous reactions to the material guide class discussions.

Today’s students are active consumers of their education. They seek novel assemblies of classes to fulfill requirements of a degree. They push for more flexibilities in the curriculum.

One step in fulfilling these expressed needs would be to reduce the constraints on students moving among different departments and schools.

Instructional Integration of Introductory and Advanced Coursework

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One of the treasured aspects of Georgetown is the strength of its faculty. Indeed, while students come and go and administrators come and go, faculty form the more permanent heart of any university. The scholarly lives of our faculty are key drivers to the quality of the education they deliver.

There is increasing evidence that the impact of higher education on a young person’s life is a function of how deep an exposure they have had to faculty who are actively expanding knowledge in their field. It is these exposures that teach a student how devotion to inquiry into a field yields payoffs, both in terms of human understanding of the world and in the pleasure of new discovery.

Interactions with faculty teach students the life of the mind – how constant curiosity fuels exploration of the unknown, how the academic culture thrives on the confrontation of alternative explanations of phenomena, and how shared debate among those seeking the truth can hone skills applicable to any life of meaning. A good question to ask ourselves is how we are facilitating the exposure of students to faculty throughout their time here.

It is common that academic units offer different types of classes. There are introductory and gateway classes, designed to introduce a field to students with no prior experience in the field. There are subfield courses that follow these gateway courses, permitting the student to gain specialized expertise. Finally, there are advanced seminars that tackle topic areas, often based on cutting-edge developments in the fields. It is commonplace that the sizes of classes successively decline over these three types.

The circulation of faculty across these types of courses is a issue each unit must tackle. Who should teach the introductory courses? Who should teach the small advance seminars? That really translates into – how can we best expose students to the diverse expertise within the faculty of the unit?

In my observation of different units, I’ve come to the conclusion that high performing ones tend to develop a culture that shares across faculty the responsibility for all three types of courses. Each faculty member does a rotation of teaching in the introductory courses, each faculty member teaches intermediate course topics, and each teaches an advanced seminar. For units that offer both undergraduate and graduate classes, all faculty do a mix of teaching in the two types. The rotation schemes work best, it seems, when multi-year schedules of teaching assignments are laid out, offering visual evidence of a “fair” allocation across faculty.

A side benefit of this rotation is that innovation in the introductory courses appears to become more likely. There seems to be a tendency to discuss the design of such courses more openly, since all the faculty in the unit share the responsibility for delivering them. This permits the introductory courses to evolve as the field evolves. Further, new as well as senior faculty can teach advanced seminars in their subfield expertise presenting the latest developments in the field. In units with undergraduate and graduate student classes, there seems to be more discussion about how to integrate the experiences of the two groups.

In a real way, such faculty cultures treat the teaching obligations as a shared duty of the faculty citizens of the unit. These cultures treat the delivery of the curriculum as a group exercise, not the sole responsibility of whatever faculty member is the current chair or coordinator. The culture clearly requires multi-year planning of rotation over the curriculum, but even that allows faculty to have greater security over their own schedules.

The benefit to students is that they experience in the different courses that rich diversity of perspectives within a single field. Students can be introduced to a field and exposed to senior scholars simultaneously. Students are exposed to different potential advisors and mentors as they progress through the curriculum. In short, they can get a sense of what a community of scholars can mean to a young mind interested in learning a field.

An Integrated Liberal Education

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Many Georgetown students are attracted to a Washington, DC, higher education experience because it offers contact with scores of institutions, organizations, and agencies that are devoted to improving societal conditions. Many of the Georgetown faculty also understand this fact and take advantage of these organizations to enrich their own scholarship.

Increasing numbers of faculty wish to use their talents in scholarly efforts aimed at ameliorating important problems. Students seek internships in DC institutions tackling these problems. As Georgetown evolves in its efforts to enlarge its impact on the world’s unsolved problems, we need to attempt to increase its use of every resource in its environment. It is fortunate, as a university devoted to a mission of serving others, that Georgetown is located in such an environment. Indeed, the combination of a mission of changing the world and a location compatible with the mission is nearly unrivaled.

We might also ask whether we could facilitate these activities within Georgetown. One wonders what next steps might be logical to increase the university’s impact on the world.

One impediment that Georgetown faculty have faced in working in interdisciplinary teams has been addressed by creating new graduate programs that offer preparation for careers in fields that are more problem-oriented. This can be quite effective when there are well-conceived professional job families that are devoted to some problem area. It permits faculty to work together with others having similar interests despite not assigned to the same department, school, or campus.

Many research universities have supplemented these educational programs with interdisciplinary research institutes. The research institutes are spaces where faculty from different units, all interested in the same problem area, can gather to work collaboratively. I’ve written about the Humanities Center as an example of such a unit.

One could imagine a set of such research units as a way to enrich the liberal education life of our students. In this design, students would pursue a major area of study to learn the lessons of going deeper and deeper in a knowledge domain. This would be similar to the current protocol. In addition to that deep specialization, however, would be opportunities to work in one or more problem areas. The student and faculty work groups in the problem area would be deliberately multi-disciplinary. A student in anthropology might be working next to a student in computer science in tackling real world problems. Their faculty leaders in this work would also represent different disciplines. In addition to the transcript noting the courses in their major, it would (probably in digital form) present the experiences they had working in the problem area, as well as work products of the experience.

Students would be citizens of multiple education/research groups – a major field and (several) problem groups. Faculty too could have such dual membership. The Georgetown of this design would have purposeful structure designed to facilitate the formation of women and men for others.

How could we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of such a design?

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