TITLE: Calling C.P. Snow AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 08, 2010 2:19 PM DESC: ----- BODY: A lot has been going on at my university the last few months to keep me busy. With significant budget cuts and a long-term change in state funding of higher education, we are beginning to see changes across campus. Last month our provost announced a move that will affect me and my department intimately: the merger of the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) with the College of Humanities and Fine Arts (CHFA). Computer Science will go from being one department among seven science/math/technology departments to a member of a college twice as large and at least that much more diverse. The merger came as a surprise to many of us on campus, so there is a lot to do beyond simply combining operating budgets and clerical staffs. I expect everything to work out fine in the end. Colleges of arts and sciences are a common way to organize universities like ours, both of the existing colleges contain good people and many good programs, and we have a dean especially well-suited to lead the merger. Still, the next eighteen months promise to deliver a lot of uncertainty and change. Change is hard, and the resulting college will be something quite different from who we are now. Part of me is excited... There are some immediate benefits for me and CS, as we will now be in the same college with colleagues such as Roy Behrens, and with the departments with whom we have been working on a new major in digital media. Multidisciplinary work is easier to do at the university when they fall under the same administrative umbrella. We are only getting started on working toward the merger, but I've already noticed some interesting differences between the two faculties. For example, at the first meeting of the department heads in my college with a faculty leader from the other college, we learned that the humanities folks have been working together on a college-wide theme of internationalization. As part of this, they have been reading a common book and participating in reading groups to discuss it. This is a neat idea. The book provides a common ground for their faculty and helps them to work together toward a common goal. The discussion unifies their college. Together, they also create a backdrop against which many of them can do their scholarly work, share ideas, and collaborate. Now that we are on the way to becoming one college, the humanities faculty have invited us to join them in the conversation. This is a gracious offer, which creates an opportunity for us all to unify as a single faculty. The particular theme for this year, internationalization, is one that has relevance in both the humanities and the sciences. Many faculty in the sciences are deeply invested in issues of globalization. For this reason, there may well be some cross-college discussion that results, and this interaction will likely promote the merger of the colleges. That said, I think the act of choosing a common book to read and discuss in groups may reflect a difference between the colleges, one that is either a matter of culture or a matter of practice. For the humanities folks, this kind of discussion is a first-order activity. It is what they do within and across their disciplines. For the science folks, this kind of discussion is a second-order activity. There are common areas of work across the science departments, such as bioinformatics, but even then the folks in biology, chemistry, computer science, and math are all working on their own problems in their own ways. A general discussion of issues in bioinformatics is viewed by most scientists as about bioinformatics, not bioinformatics itself. I know that this is a superficial analysis and that it consists of more shades of gray than sharp lines. At its best, it is a simplification. Still I found it interesting to see and hear how science faculty responded to the offer. Over the longer term, it will be interesting to see how the merger of colleges affects what we in the sciences do, and how we do it. I expect something positive will happen overall, as we come into more frequent contact with people who think a little differently than we do. I also expect the day-to-day lives of most science faculty (and humanities faculty as well) will go on as they are now. Letterhead will change, the names of secretaries will change, but scholarly lives will go on., The changes will be fun. Getting out of ruts is good for the brain. -----