Fall 2012 / Spring 2013

Photo: Danielle Aquiline (MFA '06)
Photo: Danielle Aquiline (MFA '06)
We in LAS remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that students receive a broad-based, liberal education.

A Message From the Dean

From Heraclitus to Asimov, great minds tell us that the only constant is change. This year, we’re learning that Columbia College Chicago is no exception.

As most of our readers will know, Columbia spent the recent academic year engaged in a reflective process in which each of the college’s programs—academic, administrative, and operational alike—were thoroughly reviewed, first by separate committees of faculty and staff members, and then by senior administrators. Each step of the process included recommendations for programmatic changes, offered opportunities for those affected by the proposed changes to have their voices heard, and invited decision makers to revise recommendations based on new or newly contextualized information.

The first stage of this process culminated in June when the Board of Trustees charged our new Senior Vice President (and former trustee) Dr. Warren Chapman with leading further discussion and implementation. Thus, the work of making real the things we learned from the last academic year lies before us and will last, perhaps, for several years.

In some ways, this process was a healthy disruption to help us think anew about our programs and to scrutinize them carefully. In other ways, it is simply part of what Columbia is obligated to do to stay focused and responsive to the constituencies we serve—first and foremost among them, of course, are our students.

But, whatever changes may be in the offing, there are some things at Columbia College Chicago that will not change.

We in LAS remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that students receive a broad-based, liberal education. We remain committed to the idea that the liberal arts and sciences provide arts practitioners, indeed, students in any field, with a solid, intellectual foundation upon which they can build their creative lives. And we remain dedicated not only to the practice of educating the whole human being, but also to the process of preparing our students for their lives as informed and intellectually engaged citizens. For nearly fifty years, these principles have guided us in all that we do. And, despite impending changes at Columbia, these principles will endure.

One need only flip through this issue of @LAS to see how our deep, unbreakable commitment to students persists. Last spring, we saw the first cohort of Honors students graduate from the Honors Program, a set of rigorous experiences located in the LAS Core Curriculum, a mere two years after its launch. Our cover story on page 22 profiles four of last year’s cohort of eight Honors Program graduates.

Additionally, we welcomed Dr. Steven Corey, a scholar of American History and Urban Studies, as the new Chair of the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences (page 14); we saw a number of wonderful projects from faculty and students through the Undergraduate Research Mentorship Initiative, including a partnership between Dr. Erin McCarthy, Associate Professor of History, and one of her students, who together are researching the “Grand Old Man of Football” (page 18); and we selected the first recipient of the Jay W. Boersma Scholarship—an ambitious, bright, and deserving student named Jennifer Panitch studying in our Creative Writing – Nonfiction program (page 12). And, as always, we bring you information about the scholarly work of our faculty, news about the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and other interesting, noteworthy content.

This issue of @LAS also includes a new section titled “INSTRUCTION,” in which we examine curriculum, projects, and initiatives that showcase interdisciplinary learning, teaching, and collaborations between and among faculty members and students in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Columbia College Chicago at large. Our story in this issue profiles a rigorous, highly interdisciplinary course in the Department of Science and Mathematics in which students are learning how to use mathematics and physics to understand music with the eyes and ears of a scientist.

Interdisciplinarity, in and outside of the classroom, and in all its various forms, is neither new nor particularly novel in higher education, but it is a frequently renewed focus in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Columbia—a way to remind ourselves of the strengths and benefits to be found in cooperation, sharing, teaching, and learning. For us, true interdisciplinarity doesn’t ignore disciplinary conflict: It invites students and faculty to embrace ambiguity and revel in the inherent messiness of complex ideas requiring complex thought. And I have always believed that the best interdisciplinarity comes from immersion in strong disciplines.

Ultimately, interdisciplinarity in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences has value not because it crosses purely administrative boundaries, although it often does, but because it is what will best prepare our students to enter professions in which disciplinary boundaries are blurred with increasing regularity—a world in which their flexibility, creativity, and facility with change will be among the skills most sought after by employers.

It’s because of this that the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences remains committed to working with our colleagues across campus to facilitate the upcoming changes at our institution. These changes, I am confident, will reflect our college’s mission and contribute positively to the educational experiences of our students, who upon graduating will enter a complex world that is itself undergoing profound change.

Of such matters, perhaps Isaac Asimov said it best: “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”

Deborah H. Holdstein, PhD
Dean, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences