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PRESIDENT’S PERSPECTIVE Connect


Six years ago, in a publication titled “Why Does the World Need Skidmore?” I proposed that our country’s inability to solve the significant and seemingly intractable problems confronting us stemmed in large part from a “failure of imagination.” This was, I was careful to note, not a failure of intellect or ability but rather a “failure of perspective, a fail- ure to think beyond disciplinary bound- aries, a failure to look at systems while fo- cusing instead on isolated events.” What was needed, I argued, was the capacity to call upon multiple disciplines, with their diverse ways of interrogating and analyz- ing the world, bringing their insights to bear in new and different ways. Today, as we continue to struggle with complex problems ranging from persistent, high unemployment and an increas ing ly fractious political system on the home front to con-


tinuing ethnic and sectarian strife and pervasive economic inequity across the globe, that assessment seems more appli- cable than ever.


The idea of attacking difficult, com- plex problems from multiple directions is hardly new. Indeed, liberal education has long stressed the ability to connect knowledge from different areas of learn- ing. In recent years, however, we have seen an explosion in both cross-discipli- nary inquiry and nomenclature: interdis - ciplinarity, multidisciplinarity, transdiscip- linarity, systems thinking, integrative learn- ing, etc. While there are indeed meaning- ful and important distinctions between and among these concepts, they share the common assumption that complex issues are resistant to narrow, discipline- specific approaches and so must be inves- tigated holistically, in ways that connect multiple perspectives and insights. This commitment to connection is deeply embedded in Skidmore’s curricu- lum. Indeed, it begins in the First-Year Experience, where every Scribner Seminar


must incorporate a mean- ingful interdisciplinary dimension. It is a strong tribute to our faculty members’ breadth of learning that we can sup- port such an expectation year in and year out across numerous sections of first-year seminars. By


SKIDMORE PRESIDENT PHILIP A. GLOTZBACH


COMPLEX ISSUES ARE RESISTANT TO NARROW, DISCIPLINE-SPECIFIC APPROACHES AND SO MUST BE INVESTIGATED HOLISTICALLY.


requiring students to select classes across the natural sciences and mathematics, the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts, our general-education distribution re- quirements expose students to a variety of intellectual approaches to organizing in- formation and understanding the world. Students also must develop or exhibit pro- ficiency in areas such as languages and quantitative reason- ing that provide ad- ditional incentives to explore a broad range of subject fields. Be-


yond these requirements, we offer both individual courses within disciplines and entire programs that integrate cross-dis - ciplinary perspectives, such as neuro- science, gender studies, environmental studies, and our new arts management initiative, to name just a few. Skidmore students quickly internalize this spirit of interdisciplinary inquiry, frequently choosing to double-major or to combine majors and minors from disparate areas of our curriculum. Some even select courses from different disciplines to create their own self-determined majors.


Our emphasis on making connections across fields of inquiry does not at all di- minish the importance of the individual disciplines. To the contrary, without a firm grounding in the critical tools and ways of knowing developed in relevant fields of inquiry, interdisciplinary work risks becoming unfocused or superficial. Moreover, in the spirit of Skidmore’s tradi- tional commitment to educating both “mind and hand” and our more recent assertion that “creative thought matters,”


we strongly encourage our students to apply their newly gained knowledge to real-world problems, large and small, and we provide multiple opportu- nities for them to do so— through service-learning courses, individual re- search experiences, in-


ternships, and other such opportunities. Perhaps the most notable and certain- ly the most prominent symbol of Skid- more’s commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry is the Frances Young Tang Teach- ing Museum and Art Gallery. This signa- ture program is designed to reach across disciplinary boundaries, often bringing together experts in widely separated fields—such as art and chemistry, history and dance, literature and music—to re- veal dimensions of issues that otherwise would remain obscure. In 10 short years, the Tang has become the intellectual crossroads of the campus, a space for in- quiry marked by the frisson occasioned by the intersection of often quite disparate ideas and intellectual traditions. In this issue of Scope you will see a number of examples of how our students and professors are operating in interdisci- plinary fashion, and I trust you will also see why we believe this work to be so crit- ical and so central to what we do. When Marie and I made the decision to come to Skidmore, I was particularly drawn to our community’s capacity to imagine what could be and its courage to make that vision real. The idea that there was a place where creative thought mattered and where it was, in fact, made material was tremendously appealing to me. Near- ly eight years later, I can affirm unequi - vocally that Skidmore is indeed a place brimming with creativity and in tellectual passion. My task, and that of every mem- ber of our community, is to ensure that the College continues to be such a place —because the world surely needs Skid- more now more than ever.


WINTER 2011 SCOPE 3


GARY GOLD


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