Today is the last of the series on Cheryl Geisler and the new Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology (FCAT) at Simon Fraser University (Burnby, Vancouver, Surrey, Canada):
In addition to factors such as the global economy and faculty politics (used not pejoratively but in its most general sense), Geisler and her colleagues have to contend with an increasing emphasis from the tri-council funding agencies (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC], Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR], and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council [NSERC]) on open-access to research and on proving to the public that the funded research has value.
From the recent Conference Board of Canada report on trademarks, patents, and copyright, Intellectual Property in the 21st Century by Ruth Corbin (as quoted by Michael Geist on his blog here),
In discussing the tabling of a new copyright bill, it notes:
Simultaneous support for “open-access” initiatives, where appropriate – such as facilitation of the use of government data with suitable safeguards, and readier access to publicly funded research – would help to unlock tremendous stores of knowledge and balance out the resources being expended on protection of rights.
From the SSHRC report, Framing our Direction, here,
Systematic evidence about the multiple short and long-term benefits of research in the social sciences and humanities will provide a solid foundation for decisions about levels of investment. In other words, our ability to enhance research activities is closely linked with our collective efforts to demonstrate the impact and value of social sciences and humanities research to society. For this reason, we will update our programs and policies to include a more complete accounting of research results. (final para. on p. 12 in print version, p. 14 on PDF)
The SSHRC report makes it quite clear that the quantity of funding it receives is liable to be affected by how the agency and its grant recipients are able to “[demonstrate] the impact and value of social science and humanities research to society.” No doubt the other members of the tri-Council are feeling the same pressures.
In responding to a question about how FCAT will make its research more easily accessible, Geisler drew on her experience as the head of the Language, Literature and Communication Department at Rensselaear, the oldest technological university in the US. “There certainly was the desire at the National Science Foundation and other federal programmes in the US for research to be more widely disseminated and to try to incorporate outreach activities and for the same reasons [as here in Canada].
For example, the School of Contemporary Arts will move into Woodward’s [Downtown Eastside] in the fall  so now we’re planning for how we will partner with the community, what kinds of non-credit programmes we’ll offer, and [the] residencies [we’ll offer] for artists in the community. We also have 3 or 4 faculty members that work with policy leaders in the area of culture to try to understand how to manage cultural resources and growth and make them a greater social benefit.” She also pointed out that there are plans to situate the Surrey City Hall near SIAT as part of an initiative to create a new city centre in that municipality. All of this is in stark contrast with SFU’s main campus, built in 1965, and situated on a mountain top.
Regardless of its mountain top status, SFU has long made an effort to reach out to its various communities through its non-credit continuing studies programmes in Vancouver at Harbour Centre, the programmes at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, and its longstanding presence in the Downtown Eastside through various School of the Contemporary Arts courses (Note: The school is slated to make a wholsale move into the area, Fall 2010). Unfortunately, many of these efforts fall short of reaching any community that is not in some way affiliated with the university
Geisler acknowledges that more could be done, “You have to give the public ways to option in, or to find out things or to give more clear access. That’s a good problem to work on.”
As for why she came to SFU, “I’ve always done interdisciplinary work and I led a department that had many of the same components that I saw here. In a way, I thought this was the perfect next step for me. There was no other department like mine and there’s no other faculty like [this one]. I had a sense that at FCAT there was a lot of potential and desire to interact across disciplinary boundaries and do exciting new work and I thought that’s [what] I would want to lead.”
The next and last question begged to be asked. Do you have any dreams, any fantasies about where it [FCAT] might go?
“What people do is very interdisciplinary in the sciences, in art practice, and in design practice but the academic structure is much more reified and rigid so that students’ curricular experience often doesn’t mirror what’s going on in professional practice and in knowledge generation. Also, I think one of the consequences [of curricular rigidity] is that the public is often alienated from the university because it’s cut off from what makes academics excited.
There’s a real potential for creating new processes and faculty structures that can be responsive and be reflective of more problem-based or opportunity-based alignments [that exist] for a few years to get [a] project done. [As opposed to] ‘we all do biology here and we always do it; and a hundred years from now there’s going to be a biology dept. Departments are structured ‘as if they will always be there’ because they reflect the way the world is. I’d like to see a more exciting, project-based [approach]. I don’t know exactly how to do that but I thought this would be a place to figure [it] out.”
Thank you to Dr. Geisler for the insights and your time.