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PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 21, No. 15, March 7, 2002

Cross-campus initiatives
Faculty retreat focuses on collaboration, innovation

By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
(217) 244-1072; slforres@illinois.edu

Photo by Bill Wiegand
Brainstorming Participants discussed one of four initiatives in smaller groups the morning of the faculty retreat Feb. 27. Facilitators representing each of the initiatives then presented suggestions gleaned from the groups at a plenary session in the afternoon.

Innovative research applications and interdisciplinary collaborations were the focus of discussions at a Feb. 27 faculty retreat at Levis Faculty Center.

During the morning session, faculty galvanized their separate group discussions around one of four broad themes provided by Chancellor Nancy Cantor and Provost Richard Herman: arts in a technology-intensive world, the humanities in a globalizing world, American institutions in a demographically changing world and biotechnology/bioengineering in a nano world. Faculty members exchanged ideas about fields ripe for breakthroughs, critical societal issues and instructive opportunities related to these themes.

Group facilitators presented summaries of their groups’ discussions at the afternoon plenary session.

Faculty members’ recommendations were wide-ranging and included establishing an arts center on the Urbana campus where artists and scientists could more easily collaborate as well as a suggestion that the administration revamp the humanities curricula and the general education requirements.

Faculty members recommended directing research toward areas such as nanoscience applications in global resource management and security and into societal problems such as the economic impact of the burgeoning elderly population.

Many of the suggestions proffered by faculty were pragmatic and economical, only requiring a change in perception, said Christine Catanzarite, associate director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities.

"It was interesting to see that people have the templates in place to support the programming being suggested," Catanzarite said. "We don’t need to reinvent the wheel because people are already talking about these things."

Faculty groups also asked the administration to restructure academic policies that they believe are too stringent and preclude innovative course design and interdepartmental and intercollege co-teaching.

Faculty members also cautioned that the UI’s eminence in technology is eroding, and the university should strive to establish itself as a world leader in information technology by strengthening the human-technology interface.

While the faculty groups were enthusiastic about new research and educational opportunities, they also cautioned administrators that existing programs such as the humanities are underfunded and need support.

Some faculty members welcomed the opportunity to exchange ideas with colleagues from other disciplines, departments and colleges.

"I’m from the science side of the world, and we don’t get a chance very often to cross-pollinate with people from law, the social sciences, the humanities and other disciplines," said Mark Shannon, a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering. "We come with different assumptions and different languages. It was very dynamic and very useful."

Michael Ross, director of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, said he hoped the administration would provide ongoing opportunities for cross-campus interaction.

"For me, the gathering was a very encouraging manifestation of the team approach I sense between the chancellor’s, the deans’ and provost’s offices and across campus," Ross said.

Although the retreat’s timing might have seemed less than ideal given the university’s budgetary problems, Cantor said that it was the perfect time for campus members to investigate new research applications and nontraditional collaborations.

"We will be able to attract more resources to the campus in this way," Cantor said at the plenary session. "We’ve got to move forward. These are real leadership areas for this campus."

Cantor told the participants that she was gratified by their willingness to redefine existing boundaries and explore new collaborations.

In his closing remarks, Herman assured faculty members that the administration would support their efforts.

"We need to pledge our willingness to do things in new ways," Herman said. "We will redesign things so that existing structures no longer get in the way. We will work on these issues to make your rich ideas come to fruition."

Administrators are reviewing the faculty members’ recommendations. Once the administration has designated the areas of focus, faculty/student work groups will be convened to develop implementation plans for new programs and curricula and to secure funding.


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