Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences Program Becomes a School

This fall, the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences program becomes a school. What does that mean for students and for UW Tacoma?
An IAS student in class. The IAS program will become a school, starting Sept. 16.  

On September 16, the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Program will officially become the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences (IAS). That change in title marks the culmination of over a year of restructuring and reevaluation within the University of Washington Tacoma’s largest program, all intended to balance its interdisciplinary nature with its increasing need for structure as it, and UW Tacoma, grows.

Established in 1990 with just 12 faculty members, IAS was the founding program on the UW Tacoma campus. (It was originally called the Liberal Studies program, but changed its name in 1998.) Over the last two and a half decades, IAS grew significantly; it will have over 100 faculty members this fall.

So what does it mean for IAS to be a school, rather than a program? Well, it could mean a lot – or not much.

On one hand, renaming the IAS as a school represents both its size and its complexity.

Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and former Director of IAS Bill Kunz says IAS is restructuring and becoming a school for two reasons: Firstly, “We want to become a higher-functioning unit, for our students, for our faculty, for our staff, to make it a better place to work, to make it a better place to learn. Secondly, the restructuring was really built around a desire to be more responsive and be better positioned to move forward and to grow. As the campus grows, we want to be more adept and more agile as we try to grow with it.”

Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Bill Kunz

Last September, its courses were restructured into five divisions: Culture, Art and Communication (CAC); Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs (PPPA); Science and Mathematics (SAM); Social, Behavioral and Human Sciences (SBHS); and Social and Historical Studies (SHS).

By creating these divisions, IAS increased its ability to adapt, function and respond to changes on campus. Within the divisions, more voices can be heard, and it can be easier to reach consensus or set strategic vision.

“IAS becoming a school is the culmination of work we’ve done over the last year and a half,” Kunz says.

Interim Director of IAS Cheryl Greengrove agrees. This structure “is giving us the tools we need to build curriculum and serve students better.” In a recent survey within IAS, she says, most faculty members that responded support the new structure. 

At the same time, IAS continues to strive to balance its interdisciplinary nature (the “I” in IAS) with this new structure, which creates some divisions between disciplines. Maintaining this balance, Kunz says, is an “ongoing challenge.”

 “We don’t want to become siloed.”

On the other hand, though, the shift of IAS to a school may not have a discernable impact on students. “Hopefully, (the transition to a school) won’t affect students tremendously,” says Kunz. “That is certainly our goal, to make this seamless for students, (and) that they are still getting the same high-quality curriculum that they are getting now.”

Interim Director of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Cheryl Greengrove

This news comes at the same time as several staffing changes within IAS. On August 1, the director of the program, Bill Kunz, assumes the role of interim vice chancellor for academic affairs this August, as J.W. Harrington steps down. Cheryl Greengrove will be the interim director of the program of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences until September 16, after which she will be the school’s interim dean. Greengrove was director of the program from 2006 to 2009.

However, Kunz says he does not anticipate that these staffing changes will affect students, except to reduce the number of classes he and Greengrove will teach.

The ongoing challenge of how to structure IAS, while retaining its core principle of interdisciplinary study and keeping its education cohesive, remains an ongoing challenge.

 “We’re trying to figure out a way to create a substructure that makes us operate better, which enables us to serve the students better, which enables us to support the faculty better, without losing the interdisciplinary ethos of our program,” says Kunz.

Learn more about the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences program (soon to be school) on its website.

Section: 
Written by: 
Abby Rhinehart / August 1, 2014
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Media Relations, johnbjr@uw.edu, 253-692-4536.