Monday, January 18, 2010

Tilting at Silos

Dan RichardDan Richard

Office of Faculty Enhancement

Do you work in a silo?
In higher education research, a silo is an enclosed community of scholars who focus on research problems with a singular orientation. Physicists might study global warming with other physicists, for example, or sociologists might study poverty with other sociologists. Steve Kolowich in a recent article published in Inside HigherEd ( discusses the impact of these silos on the coordination of resources at institutions of higher education.

The benefits of working in silos include the ability to progress quickly in one direction, facilitated by a common language and perspective. Very focused programs can secure funding from focused initiatives with less competition, and focused departments can attract quality students who are seeking out signature, productive programs.

Many problems like global warming and poverty, however, are complex. Funding sources are increasingly recognizing this complexity and are interested in funding projects that take an interdisciplinary approach (e.g., NIH and NSF).

One of the major challenges in moving toward interdisciplinary work is the established culture at the institution. Kolowich points out that promotion and tenure guidelines sometimes do not recognize interdisciplinary work on the same level as research by a single author.

What are your thoughts?
Does UNF encourage interdisciplinary work?
Should UNF move toward recognizing and supporting interdisciplinary work, for reasons of gaining extramural funding or for reasons of IT infrastructure?
Should we stay in our silos to promote focused, signature programs?

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