Inter-Faculty Initiatives Growing

Cooperation Among Schools Has Risen

When Neil L. Rudenstine became president of Harvard in the fall of 1991, his first task was to unite a University that has historically been very decentralized.

Rudenstine wanted to bridge the gaps among the nine disparate and diverse schools, creating something greater than the sum of its parts.

His integration of the different faculties was divided into the $2.1 billion capital campaign, the first-ever University-wide fundraising project, and the creation of five Interfaculty Initiatives--inter-school and inter-disciplinary groups set up to seek out and research key areas of benefit to the community and the world.

The Interfaculty Initiatives--in Health Policy, Schooling and Children, Ethics and the Professions, Mind/Brain/Behavior and the Environment--were designed to involve all the schools in developing cooperative research, teaching ventures and public service projects.

"Part of the standard was that these issues were pressing social problems which we know can only be addressed through an interdisciplinary forum," says Sarah E. Wald, assistant provost for policy and planning.

Associate provost Dennis F. Thompson says connecting these resources should not be a challenging task for the University.


"President Clinton talks about building a bridge to the future," Thompson says. "We [at Harvard] just have to build tiny bridges between the tubs."

Five years after their conception, the ideas for the Interfaculty Initiatives have matured into full blown interdisciplinary and inter-school programs.

"I think the [initiatives] have made some real progress," Wald says.

"Some of them seem to be farther along than others," Thompson says. "My overall impression, although tentative, is that they're all in different ways remarkably successful."

Leverett Professor Jerry R. Green, who was provost when the Interfaculty Initiative plan first took shape, said he was directly involved with the Environment and the Mind/Brain/Behavior initiatives.

"I think both of those have gone very well," Green says.

From their creation, each initiative has taken a different path.

Two of the initiatives in particular have had a major impact on undergraduates.

The Environmental initiative is primarily a research and teaching initiative focusing on the concentration which developed from it, Environmental Science and Public Policy. Since its creation in 1993, the concentration has grown by leaps and bounds and now includes 120 concentrators.

The Mind/Brain/Behavior initiative, which also has a research focus, has become a track in four different undergraduate concentrations.