ASA and President Marsden (fwd)

Lee Lorch (
Wed, 13 Aug 1997 15:16:09 -0400 (EDT)

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Date: Wed, 13 Aug 1997 09:52:12 -0700
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From: gail kellough <kellough@YORKU.CA>
Subject: ASA and President Marsden

During the past week, I have attended a number of sessions at the meetings
of the American Sociological Association. At one of these sessions, Lorna
Marsden was on a panel dealing with building bridges across academic
disciplines within universities. Some members of that panel stressed the
way that departmental budgeting structures inhibit the development of a
multi-disciplinary focus by isolating departments who compete for scarce
resources. Although Dr. Marsden spoke about the problems of shrinking
resources, she did not address how decisions about these resources
should be made. The substantive points of her presentation:

1. students today are showing an increased interest in getting a broad
education as evidenced by their demand for foundation courses

2. An opposite push (away from a multi-disciplinary education) comes from
parents who are primarily concered with the relevance of some disciplines
for helping their sons and daughters compete in the job market (getting
bang for their buck). The solution Dr. Marsden suggested was that
universities should not back away from supporting less marketable
departments but that they need to do a better job of educating the public
regarding the value of a broad education.

3. A major problem for building bridges is that the different conceptual
universes of university departments creates misunderstanding and divisions
even when participants are using the same language. (The same problem
occurs, she suggested, in cases where academics with similar backgrounds
come from different countries -- i.e. U.S. academics frequently
misunderstand what their Canadian counterparts are saying because they are
unaware of the assumptions that underlie the words).

4. Dr. Marsden's conclusion: Universities need to find ways to promote
greater dialogue and unity of purpose across departments.

I didn't stay for the discussion but I think it might have been suggested
to Dr. Marsden that one of the structures that can promote discussion of
common interests and common problems already exists in universities where
the faculty is unionized and where union members are committed to
promoting equitable and democratic solutions concerning the
utilization of resources.

Gail Kellough