Interdisciplinarity and the undergraduate major
Bachman, Linda Page
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The rise of interdisciplinarity in research is fairly well understood; it represents a shift over the past few decades to problem-based rather than discipline-based inquiry, and it is also a response to increased resource dependency of universities. As public sources of funding continue to shrink, the burden of financing higher education is shifting toward tuition-paying students. Universities are thus developing academic programs in response to environmental and industry demand, seeking out new markets of students, and developing problem-based curricula that promise return on investment in the form of a job. This dissertation examines the growth and development of one such interdisciplinary program, Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan. The driving research questions address how and why the program was developed, and its implications for students, faculty, shifting resource streams, and the disciplines. This study draws on a number of interrelated literatures: the history and typologies of academic disciplines, interdisciplinarity, and the department; theories of institutional change and restructuring; resource dependency and academic capitalism; and the rise of pre-professional fields, the decline of the humanities, and the new sociology of knowledge that explores the nexus of intellectual and financial power. Several key findings emerge from this study. Screen Arts and Cultures serves a mediating function in the student marketplace, both creating and responding to student demand. The patterns of authority that shape the status of faculty are bifurcated, with tenure-track “studies” faculty members participating in one set of power dynamics and lecturer “production” faculty members in another. Resource streams at the University of Michigan have shifted toward Screen Arts and Cultures, as evidenced by growth in faculty lines, student enrollments, space, equipment, and budget allocations, and institutional investment in development and career service supports. These institutional investments have helped to generate external resources, even as those external resources leverage institutional investments. And finally, regarding interdisciplinarity as a form of restructuring: there is productive tension between interdisciplinarity and claiming a disciplinary space; interdisciplinarity is an important strategy for engaging in academic capitalist behaviors; and, in the humanities, interdisciplinarity – enacted largely in the form of joint faculty appointments – is cheap.