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Stanford Report, January 26, 2000

School of Humanities and Sciences: Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Interdepartmental Programs


Richard Zare - Chemistry, Chair

Rob Polhemus - English

Judith Goldstein - International Relations

John Rickford - African & Afro-American Studies

Karen Cook - Sociology

George Papanicolaou - Math

Russell Berman - Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies (ex officio)

Interdepartmental Programs have come to play a significant role in the teaching mission of the School, awarding bachelor degrees to approximately a quarter of last year's graduating class. IDPs are sometimes seen as providing learning opportunities unavailable within traditional departmental structures and are therefore regarded as sites of innovation. In some cases attracting high enrollment numbers, IDPs nevertheless lack the budget support and infrastructure accorded to departments, nor are they able to play a central role in setting faculty appointment priorities. In other cases, IDPs are less well enrolled, but still generate costs for the School, particularly in regard to faculty time, staffing, and space. In general, while IDPs provide unique teaching opportunities, they also remain topics of considerable concern in the School, be it in terms of their proliferation, the adequacy of their funding, the strength of on-going faculty support and other issues.

The ad hoc Advisory Committee on Interdepartmental Programs is being convened in order to provide guidance to the Dean on the status of IDPs within the scholarly life of the School, in both undergraduate and graduate education. The Committee should advise the Dean on determining how successfully IDPs contribute to the teaching mission of the School and whether their current organizational structure is as rational and efficient as possible. The Committee should advise the Dean on strategies to improve IDPs to render them more effective as well as on how to identify IDPs that may have become redundant with departments. Given the great variety of IDPs, the Committee is not expected to designate a uniform policy for all IDPs but to take into consideration differences in size, fields of specialization, and other variables.

The Advisory Committee on Interdepartmental Programs is not charged to conduct the regular reauthorization reviews of IDPs but, rather, to suggest strategies regarding this' sector of teaching within the School. The Committee should focus on topics including, but not limited to the following:

1) In light of the School's extensive experience with IDPs, what are the advantages and disadvantages of teaching programs outside of departmental structures?.

2) How well are students served by pursuing

faculty lines? degrees in programs without regular

3) Can more effective learning communities be achieved by clusterings of smaller IDPs; into single units, or is there a fundamental advantage in maintaining the administrative independence of all units? If groupings of IDPS are deemed desirable, what specific organizational structures are likely?

4) What advantages and disadvantages adhere to committing significant resources, e.g. billets, to an IDP?

5) If disciplinary changes lead departments to revise their missions in ways that turn out to overlap with an IDP, should the IDP be terminated due to redundancy with a department?

6) The current IDP review process proceeds from a self-study and has consistently led to reauthorizations of programs. Is the review process biased toward maintaining existing programs? How could the review process be revised? SR