Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Interdisciplinary smoosh, or, what is the point of me?

Craziness continues. Such a day I had today. I know that this blog is woefully whiny at the moment, and I am sorry. This is me, though, lately - not at my best. (Have I mentioned that I think I’ve developed an ulcer?)

And perhaps my whininess can be productive of some thoughts, this time. Because what I was feeling particularly demoralized about today was something to do with interdisciplinarity, and what better space than this to think that through?

The context: Each of my three degrees is an interdisciplinary one. To what is sure to be the scandal of many, I don’t have a disciplinary home – I never have. I had my BA and MA in one kind of interdisciplinary program, and my PhD in another kind. I have taught exclusively in such programs – I have done so these last two years post-PhD, and even when I was a TA, my teaching was in another interdisciplinary program.

My own research is not easily categorizable, not at all, as a result of all of this. I draw from, and my writing could be used in, multiple disciplines.

And I was hired to develop an interdisciplinary program here at Scary City/with Potential U. That is what I’m here for, and I know that my interdisciplinary background made me an attractive candidate here.

The Problem: So here I am, trying to develop my interdisciplinary program. Tra la la. (In truth, I am doing next to nothing about this right now because I have so much in the research department, and absolutely no stomach or energy for this admin piece.) What is clear to me is that Theory is going to need to be a requirement to graduate with a minor or major in this program – such is the case in most such programs. And I happen to do Theory, and to teach Theory (quite successfully, if I do say so myself - as those of you who read my rhapsodies about last year’s Theory class might remember). So I want to introduce this Theory course, and to teach it. But my Chair tells me, “there’s this person in [Discipline X] who teaches a course called [Name of my theory course]. You should just consult with this person to make sure they’re okay with what you’re proposing.”

But Chair and I, we both think this won’t be a problem because of course this person will be teaching Theory in [Discipline X], and not the kind of interdisciplinary Theory course that I teach. Tra la la. So I send this professor an email explaining what I’m up to, and attaching my Theory syllabus from last year – which will be very similar to the Theory course I’m teaching as a Special Topics beginning in January, and proposing go on the books as a permanent course.

And what do I get back? This prof’s syllabus for their Discipline X Theory class, which is essentially the same as my interdis Theory course!!!! So we met today, and the only solution to this is to let this Prof teach this course – I can’t propose to put a course on the books which is essentially a duplication of an existing one; it won’t go through. So there you have it – I don’t get to teach the core course in my specialty. I am not pleased.

I’m not angry at this prof, of course – how could I be, when they are teaching such a splendid course? :) And when I value and tout interdisciplinarity? But it does make me think about the way the disciplines are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. And if this happens, do “interdisciplinary scholars” like me become redundant? Do we go the way of the dodo? What, in short, am I doing here, if I can’t develop the courses I want to? This prof made it clear that I would potentially be blocked in the program development I want to do, by all sorts of overlap with all sorts of courses in existing disciplines. I was essentially being told that there was no way to do what I am supposed to be here to do.

So we’re all becoming just one big smoosh? That’s what academia is now? Interdisciplinary puree? I’ve encountered this recently in another way because my friend D is teaching the Intro course in another interdis program, and there is the risk of some overlap between our courses. For god’s sake. You know, smoosh is nice in theory, but I feel like I’m at risk of being smooshed right on out. (And frankly, it makes me want to leave for pastures in which the interdis thing is already sown, and I don't have to spend my energy battling smoosh when I don't even mind smoosh.)


Belle said...

Oh, Hilaire, I'm so sorry you're going through this now. Just NOT what you need.

Talk to your chair; if they want the interdis program, there must be some give/take. Maybe you can work with the other prof to share the class; show different ways of approaching Theory. Personify interdis.

Can this be a way for you to branch out into something you've been wanting to find the time to do? I too do something that doesn't fit neatly into any clear category; there are ways (I've found a couple) to leverage my skills/background into new avenues and create something fun and new.

medieval woman said...

Oh god - this sounds like the most annoying thing! Did they not think of this before they hired you to create a program the pieces of which were all already scattered throughout the university??

I'm so sorry this is becoming such a challenge when your plate is already over-filled!


squadratomagico said...

Belle's idea sounds good: would your colleague be amenable to sharing the class -- each of you teaching it in turn?

It must be sad to have to let go of a class that's given you so much pleasure in the past. And if you have a talent for teaching theory, well, that's a rare and valuable gift. But perhaps this could be an opportunity to create something else new and exciting, centered on a slightly different theoretical approach, perhaps?

dbm/gaa said...

Oh lord. I live in smoosh-land too, and it is annoying as hell. There must be some difference between your brand of Theory and the disciplinary brand, I usually couch mine in how it applies to my interdisciplinary discipline (oh the language we use!) and get away with that.

Pantagruelle said...

That sucks about not being able to teach your theory course this year, but I agree that trying to negotiate sharing teaching duties for that course on a yearly basis with the other prof sounds like a good way to go.

Excuse me if this sounds off-base, but isn't what you're describing actually a good thing when it comes to building the interdisciplinary program, ie, doesn't it make your job a whole lot easier? Instead of tracking down people to teach new courses and trying to get new courses approved by the admin, you now merely need to get the program approved? Instead of creating New Program with New Course 1, New Course 2, New Course 3, etc, now all you have to do is create New Interdis Program with Existing Course 1 (cross-listed as acceptable credit for New Interdis Program), Existing Course 2, Existing Course 3, etc? Sure you can have the courses that already exist reassigned or relisted with course numbers that correspond to BOTH their old programs/depts and your new program/dept? At my school, many courses have multiple course numbers and disciplinary prefixes, ie, ENGL 101 / WS 101 / IDS 101, but it's all the same course taught by the same prof, or in your case could be the same course taught by different profs in rotating years.

Hilaire said...

Thanks, all, for weighing in.

The problem with me being able to rotate teaching the theory course with the colleague is that it is only taught every two years. That means I'd teach it every four years! I also don't think the department it is currently housed in would go for that, nor would the colleague, because it would mean she'd have to pick up the slack by teaching a new course - she's pretty ensconced in the same two-year rotation, with no new courses ever!

But you're right, Sq. and Belle, that I will have to reconceive/reimagine things. I started doing that yesterday, imagining a series of interdisciplinary sort of "meta" courses, which comment, in a way, on the history and development of scholarship in this area. I tend to do a lot of that in my teaching, anyway - a product of my theoretical/methodological orientation - and so that might be the way to go.

GAA - Yeah, the thing is, our courses are SO similar, it's extraordinary. The colleague's really is not disciplinary AT ALL. In fact, it has next to nothing from that discipline on it! (Which bugs me, actually, but who am I to start kicking up a fuss over someone who's been here for 17 years?)

And Pan, yes, cross-listing, of course! I'm used to that approach, too. For some reason, this institution doesn't like cross-listing, apparently. There is resistance to it. And the thing is, I think that works better at places where they are relying entirely on cross-appointed faculty (like my alma mater), and don't really then "own" or "house" any courses. But if you're hiring, like they've done with me, then I think you have to have a core "identity" for the program, and that's where I (and future hires) come in. Otherwise, there's no real point in having dedicated faculty. I'd normally think the role of the dedicated faculty, if there were cross-listing, would be to teach required courses (Intro, theory, methods) and I'd like to do that, but the situation here is going to make that complicated.

R said to me that what they need is someone who's going to just steamroll over people. And as she pointed out, that's sure as hell not me - it's not my personality, and I am just not interested in that kind of battle. Nor in making enemies. I already feel like there are people who don't like me, for some reason, and I'm brand new here. A couple of potential friends/allies giving me the cold shoulder already, probably because of other friends and allies I've made. Sigh. I just want to teach and research and quietly set up a tiny, good program - I don't want to get involved in all this drama. It's totally emotionally draining, and for what, ultimately?

What Now? said...

I don't know if Tenured Radical is a regular reader over here, but it might be worth emailing her and asking her advice. She's the chair of American Studies, and her program seems to include both core faculty and faculty in other programs, and it certainly sounds like her program has had its share of political run-ins, so she might have some good experience to pass on.