Emerging Academic Opportunities

Formal academic disciplines lie at the foundation of research and education in SAS, and the previous section of this plan articulated several strategies for ensuring the continued strength of our departments. Yet we also recognize the power of the innovations and new ways of thinking that can emerge when multiple disciplinary and theoretical perspectives are brought to bear on complex problems, questions, and ideas. In building distinguished departments, the School is also deeply committed to promoting the integration of knowledge among them.

Just as we emphasize the importance of planning by departments, programs, and centers, so too is planning and coordination a key to the success of integrated knowledge initiatives. Efforts such as the ones described below are intended to spur further interaction among the many entities within SAS and around Penn in articulating common academic pursuits. Such coordination requires that we maximize not only the School’s intellectual resources to ensure the most academic impact, but also our financial resources by promoting efficiencies and avoiding duplication of effort.

In addition to formal organizational units, the School and University have developed several other means to bring faculty together to foster interdisciplinary activities: faculty working groups that explore a focused topic; cluster hires made across departments around a common theme; and senior faculty appointments across departments, both within SAS and across schools via the Penn Integrates Knowledge program. As this strategic planning process itself has demonstrated, a crucial step in advancing the integration of knowledge in SAS is gathering the right people from around the School together for sustained discussion. Therefore, while some of the efforts outlined below seek to promote coordination through the creation of formal centers, others will be led by planning boards, initiatives, and other flexible mechanisms of the type the School must continue to develop.

The School is also committed to removing the financial and administrative barriers, within SAS and across Penn, that can stand in the way of the integration of knowledge in research and teaching. We will work with the Provost and the other Penn deans to identify the most promising opportunities to collaborate and then explore new financial structures that do not disadvantage any participating school in pursuit of these unique initiatives.

As part of its goal to promote the integration of major areas of knowledge, the School will undertake the series of eight initiatives outlined below. They fall into two categories. One seeks to focus our existing broad resources in a given area through improved organization and coordination. The other calls for strategic investments in more narrow areas of emerging knowledge. In all cases, these eight opportunities will:

  • advance both fundamental knowledge and have transformative applications
  • capitalize on distinguishing research strengths across SAS and Penn
  • strengthen relationships among departments, programs, schools, and disciplines
  • have a significant impact on undergraduate and graduate education

Focusing Our Strengths

These four themes represent broad areas of inquiry where the School and University already have considerable resources, but where enhanced coordination of research and teaching agendas and more unified organization would strengthen their overall academic impact, institutional visibility, and efficiency in the engagement of people, facilities, and funds.

Advancing Integrated Knowledge

These four areas represent the most compelling and far-reaching opportunities for SAS to integrate important and rapidly emerging areas of knowledge and inquiry at a school-wide level in the next several years. While building on existing strengths, these initiatives will also require strategic investment in faculty, facilities, education programs, and research activities.  Each one of these new initiatives holds the promise for accelerating the pace of discovery and promoting pedagogical innovation. Each draws upon and will benefit (to varying degrees) the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, as well as other parts of the University.