Monday, September 16, 2013

The Challenges of Interdisciplinary Scholarship: The Joint Appointment

In their 2010 book Working Together, my fellow Workshoppers Amy Poteete, Marco Janssen, and Lin Ostrom discussed at length the difficulties of breaking down academic "silos" to enable true interdisciplinary cooperation. For as much as colleges and universities love to talk about interdisciplinarity these days, actually walking the walk remains an uphill battle.

Aside from well-understood obstacles such as departmental budget lines, course staffing concerns, different research agendas and methodological preferences, and preferred publication outlets (which have their own anti-interdisciplinary biases), special problems confront individual scholars (like me) with fully joint appointments, even assuming that one has a primary home in a certain department. I, for example, hold joint appointments in Law and in Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA). Each of those departments pays half of my base salary, and my course load is evenly split between them. Law is my primary home, which means it is my sole reporting line - the only place where I am supposed to have service (e.g., committee) requirements. As a practical matter, however, in order to feel like a fully integrated member of SPEA, it is necessary for me to do more there than simply teach my classes there. I feel compelled to attend at least some of their (numerous) faculty meetings and scholarly presentations,  and to pull my weight on faculty candidate interviews, PhD student supervision, and even some committee work. In addition to SPEA and the law school, I also serve, entirely by choice, in a leadership position in the Ostrom Workshop, which actually imposes more administrative burdens on my time than the Law School and SPEA combined, especially given the colloquia, working group meetings, etc. that occur on a weekly basis in the Workshop. And, just to top things off, I'm now an adjunct faculty member in Political Science, which creates a few more self-imposed obligations to participate at least to a minimal extent in the life of that department.

My weekly calendar now is simply a catalogue of meetings and presentations, several of which conflict with others. Even with teaching only one course this semester, I have scant time for work on my own research projects, which currently number above a half-dozen. I cannot really complain about this situation because, as an interdisciplinary scholar, I have chosen it for myself. But it creates a conundrum because ultimately I do need to get my work done, even as I'm trying to fit in with my colleagues across campus. I'm not sure a satisfactory remedy exists for this situation. It may simply be that a commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship entails a commitment to be way too busy. Lin Ostrom clearly did not conceive of being too busy as a problem. I do.

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