Advancing the Success of Interdisciplinary LCPL Faculty

Professor speaks to his class in language lab, CAS
Professor Scott Hartley, wearing protective glasses, talks with students in the lab, CAS


This document provides suggestions for lecturers, clinical and professionally licensed (LCPL) faculty interested in pursuing interdisciplinary work and for administrators (department chairs, program directors, and deans) working with LCPL faculty who are pursuing interdisciplinary teaching and research. It provides suggestions for better ensuring the professional success and retention of interdisciplinary faculty.

Since 1997, three ad hoc committees have been developed which offered specific and similar recommendations on advancing an interdisciplinary culture at Miami University: the 1997 “Ways to Encourage Interdisciplinary Teaching”; the 2006 “Report of the First in 2009 Coordinating Council Sub-Committee on Interdisciplinarity at Miami University”; and the 2011 Interdisciplinary Enhancement Committee Report. Each report identified the barriers to interdisciplinary work, the landscape of interdisciplinary activity at Miami at the time, perspectives from various stakeholders around campus, and key recommendations for how to enhance and encourage interdisciplinarity. The cornerstone of the 2006 report was a campus-wide survey that gathered data about barriers to interdisciplinary teaching and research. An open meeting for Miami faculty and administrators, which was held in November 2013 and sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Advisory Council, also yielded similar recommendations on fostering an interdisciplinary teaching and research environment at Miami.

Findings from the November 2013 meeting and the previous committee reports as well as from the professional literature have shaped the ideas and recommendations embedded in this document.

Interdisciplinary Studies Today

Colleges and universities are experiencing a marked increase in interdisciplinary research and education. As one researcher noted, for the past ten years, “interdisciplinary programs have multiplied at a dizzying pace” (Nowacek, 2009, 493), with “over half of current general education reforms includ[ing] interdisciplinary programs or courses” (494). Likewise, the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Science Foundation, and the Institute of Medicine have extolled the benefits of interdisciplinary research and taken steps to promote its expansion (National Academies Press, 2004; see also Similarly, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Social Science Research Council have also recently developed and prioritized prominent interdisciplinary initiatives.[1]

[1] NEH examples include: the symposium on digital humanities and biomedicine []; the “Enduring Questions” project [], as well as the language preservation project []. ACLS examples include: digital innovations fellowships []; a China Studies Program []; and collaborative research fellowships []. See also

Understanding the Benefits and Challenges of Interdisciplinary Faculty

As summarized below, faculty who engage actively in interdisciplinary teaching, scholarship, and service opportunities provide significant benefits and challenges for the University. Interdisciplinary faculty may work within interdisciplinary programs or centers or they may be members of disciplinary departments.



  • May have a thematic focus which can be appealing to students and faculty
  • Team-teaching can promote faculty development, teaching excellence, and collaborations
  • Often involves experiential learning (e.g., field experiences, service learning, collaborative learning)


  • No or few textbooks
  • Lack of sample syllabi or longstanding models to follow
  • No clear body of knowledge to cover
  • Team-teaching, due to its collaborative nature and the need for the instructors to learn new disciplines, can be more time-consuming
  • Students and parents may not immediately perceive value
  • Assessment methods may be unique



  • Fosters community connections
  • Builds bridges between disciplines, departments, divisions
  • Enables faculty to become known on campus


  • Multiple and diverse demands
  • Jointly appointed faculty serve two or more academic departments or programs; each department may not recognize the service demands required from the other



  • Broadens network for the department and University


  • Procedures & criteria may be biased toward disciplines
  • Reviewers may assume disciplinary norms or standards

Robert Clark, Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, writes, It is clear that teaching “at the boundaries of traditional . . . disciplines is yielding tremendous gains. . . The simple act of brainstorming in a group of faculty having different backgrounds is tremendously exciting and stimulating. Such groups diminish the fear associated with suggesting ideas that are outside the accepted ‘dogma’ of a particular . . . discipline. There is less risk of being criticized by colleagues that understand when you approach the problem with a different background and perspective. As a result, this kind of brainstorming among colleagues from different disciplines can stimulate creativity, sometimes leading to radically unique ideas or approaches.”[2]

Although supporting interdisciplinary teaching comes with challenges-- including ensuring administrative flexibility and support, and constant exposure to faculty in other disciplines to expand the vocabulary, which can vary greatly from discipline to discipline—it is worth the effort.

[2] See:

Support for New Faculty

New LCPL faculty involved in interdisciplinary work may require mentoring because their teaching may not fit with established norms, criteria, resources, and rewards. Interdisciplinary faculty members approach their teaching in different ways, and each approach has somewhat different implications.

Considerations Related to Interdisciplinary Teaching

Interdisciplinary teaching entails the use and integration of methods and analytical frameworks from more than one academic discipline to examine a theme, issue, question, or topic. The hallmark of interdisciplinary education is integration of concepts, methods, and principles from multiple disciplines to systematically form a more complete, and hopefully coherent, framework of analysis that offers a richer understanding of the issue under examination.

Interdisciplinary teaching activities may need additional support and development, particularly when the faculty member is involved in developing new courses that span multiple disciplines—often without a standard textbook or readily available teaching resources—or when the faculty members is piloting new experimental teaching approaches.

Although there is no single preferred pedagogy or teaching approach for interdisciplinary courses, most interdisciplinary faculty are learning new fields of knowledge and advancing active forms of learning such as service learning, team-teaching, inquiry-based education, learning communities, or collaborative learning, which may take time, experience and professional development to master.

Because of the nature of interdisciplinary teaching, teaching portfolios can be a dynamic and performance-based way for interdisciplinary faculty to demonstrate the product of their teaching efforts (e.g., Goldstein, 2006; DeZure, 2010) to their colleagues. Moreover, because the learning outcomes for interdisciplinary courses can differ from outcomes in disciplinary courses, assessment measures may be different from traditional measures and may require significant time to develop.

The Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) can provide assistance on developing teaching portfolios and assessment.

Considerations Related to Service of Interdisciplinary Faculty

Interdisciplinary faculty members may have a joint academic appointment, serve as an affiliate in a program or department, or be heavily involved in a center, institute, or major interdisciplinary initiative outside of their home department. As a result, the nature and extent of service (to the department, program, division, University, profession, community) may be more expansive and different from the service record of a faculty member who works primarily within the confines of a single discipline, department, or division.

It is important to recognize that because interdisciplinary programs, centers, and institutes have few (if any) core faculty assigned to them, they largely rely on the contributions of faculty whose lines exist in other departments or divisions. Consequently, the service the faculty members offer these units may at times be substantial.

Mentoring LCPL Faculty

It is advantageous to provide adequate mentoring to all faculty, but especially new faculty whose service and/or teaching areas are interdisciplinary. In particular, new LCPL faculty should be given clear guidelines about what is expected and valued by a particular department; for example, they should not be surprised to learn, in their fifth year, that the department does not recognize certain forms of teaching or service as valuable for promotion. It may be necessary to provide two (or more) mentors to ensure coverage of the different areas in which the faculty member works.

If a faculty member is heavily involved in a center or institute, it is especially important to provide advice about how to balance work on collaborative projects with work that establishes a strong individual reputation.

When establishing a mentoring relationship, it should be clear to all whether or not the mentor has a role in evaluating the faculty member for promotion.

Coordinating the Evaluation and Promotion Process for LCPL Faculty

Whether an interdisciplinary faculty member holds an appointment within a single department or holds a joint appointment, challenges may arise in the promotion evaluation. The single greatest difficulty is that faculty members may judge other faculty according to the norms and criteria of their own discipline, and often departments tend to believe that their approach to teaching is the only or best one.

Even when faculty members conducting the evaluation adopt an open-minded stance, it may be challenging for them to calibrate the metrics for impact and academic success within another discipline, even a closely related one. For example, when evaluating teaching, questions may arise such as: What is the appropriate grade point average for particular types of courses/fields/disciplines? Which teaching approaches are considered innovative or appropriate? What sort of qualitative comments on course evaluations should be heeded or ignored? How much credit should be given to a faculty member who has team-taught a course? Put succinctly, there is a great deal of implicit knowledge within a discipline that is taken into account that may be missing in interdisciplinary cases.

To mitigate these difficulties, the following recommendations are offered:

  • If possible, involve people from relevant disciplines or interdisciplinary fields in the annual merit review and promotion review of the interdisciplinary faculty member.
  • Anticipate that the dossier and process will take longer to prepare and evaluate than purely disciplinary cases, and plan accordingly.

Dossier Preparation

One of the most important factors to keep in mind in preparing materials is clarification of the significance of the individual’s work. Because the dossier will be read by many people who may not have expertise in the teaching area(s) of the candidate, the candidate will need to present a narrative that explains his or her development as an interdisciplinary faculty member (Austin, 2003). This guideline is important for all faculty, but it is particularly important for interdisciplinary faculty who may be engaged in unique teaching situations. For example, because interdisciplinary teaching is often collaborative, the role and specific contributions of the individual in the team-taught or team-designed course should be clearly explained. Moreover, if the faculty member had to learn new disciplinary knowledge to prepare an interdisciplinary course, that additional level of work should be described.

The teaching and service statement written by the candidate as well as the chair’s letter should also be written for a more general audience than is the case for disciplinary faculty. The candidate’s statement is an opportunity to demonstrate an overarching plan or theme, including the candidate’s collaboration strategy.

As noted earlier, teaching portfolios can be a particularly effective way for interdisciplinary faculty to demonstrate the process and product of their teaching efforts to the public or to their disciplinary colleagues.


  • The faculty member and chair/director should meet annually to set clear outcomes and goals for teaching, service, and advising to promote development and prioritize competing demands.
  • Encourage the faculty member to network with colleagues in relevant disciplines or interdisciplinary fields across the University and nation. Arrange for formal or informal mentoring by an experienced LCPL professor with interdisciplinary interests.
  • Provide funding and support to participate in faculty development workshops, meetings, and conferences related to teaching in relevant disciplines and interdisciplinary fields.
  • If possible, involve people from relevant disciplines or a related interdisciplinary field in the annual merit review or promotion committee of the interdisciplinary LCPL faculty member.
  • When the LCPL faculty member is ready for promotion, provide coaching or mentoring on the dossier so that the significance of the interdisciplinary activities are clearly identified and justified.


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Created by the Interdisciplinary Advisory Council - Fall 2014: Carolyn Haynes, (Office of Provost), Bob Applebaum (SOC/GTY), Michael Bailey-Van Kuren (MME), H. Louise Davis (BIS, AMS), Peg Faimon (ART), Tim Greenlee (MKT), Katie Johnson (ENG), Kate Kuvalanka (FSW), Chris Myers (ZOO), Glenn Platt (IMS), Jen Waller (Libraries)

Note: These suggestions are designed to complement existing Miami University policies and information. None of the suggestions in this document supersede University policies and procedures.