Trustees approve interdisciplinary studies school, department name change

February 21, 2014  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Purdue University Board of Trustees on Friday (Feb. 21) approved a School of Interdisciplinary Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and renaming the Department of Physics to the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Trustees also approved adding the University Senate chairperson as a non-voting, ex officio member of the trustees' Academic Affairs Committee.

The new school houses 15 interdisciplinary programs in the College of Liberal Arts, said Irwin Weiser, Justin S. Morrill Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Interdisciplinary programs now enroll 442 undergraduate majors and minors and 119 graduate students, making it one of the college's largest academic areas.

"This school will bring increased visibility to Purdue's interdisciplinary programs in the arts, the humanities and the social sciences," Weiser said. "It also addresses the occasional need for an interdisciplinary program to recruit and retain faculty members. The school requires no additional resources while providing appropriate promotion and tenure homes for interdisciplinary scholars."

He said the school would be similar in structure, though not in size, to two existing schools in the college: The Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) and the School of Languages and Cultures (SLC). VPA is composed of the departments of theatre and arts and design and the divisions of dance and music. SLC has five academic units: the Department of Arabic, Classics, Hebrew and Italian; the Department of East Asian Languages; the Department of French; the Department of German and Russian; and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

In each case, Weiser said, the school is administered by a head and has a primary committee composed of all the school's tenured faculty.

"There are not separate department or division primary committees. This is the model for the School of Interdisciplinary Studies," he said.

The change to the Department of Physics and Astronomy is a result of growth and will bring Purdue in line with practices at major American research universities, said Jeff Roberts, dean of the College of Science.

"Since 2000 the physics department has experienced substantial growth in terms of funding, student enrollment and personnel, with 33 new faculty hires," Roberts said. "During this time we have significantly increased our efforts in astrophysics and now have nine faculty in this area. The Purdue astrophysics group is well recognized internationally and is a partner in several cutting-edge research facilities, including the VERITAS gamma-ray telescope, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the XENON dark matter project."

The department offers five undergraduate and four graduate astronomy courses as well as an astronomy minor degree, Roberts said.

He said 46 of the top 50 American research universities listed by the Center for Measuring University Performance have large astrophysics research programs, and 40 of those have either a department of physics and astronomy or two separate departments for the subjects.

Benefits of the name change, Roberts said, include more effective student recruitment, wider department recognition among peer institutions in astrophysics research, broader departmental recognition in the Purdue community and the general public, and more popularity of the astronomy minor program and course offerings.

Current Faculty Senate Chair David Williams proposed the addition of a representative of faculty leadership to the Academic Affairs Committee. The change will take effect at the committee's next meeting, which is scheduled for April 3.

"This brings another important voice to the committee's deliberations and promotes the interests of shared governance at the university," said Tim Sands, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. 

Writer: Greg McClure, 765-496-9711, 

Sources: Timothy D. Sands, 765-494-9709,

Irwin Weiser, 765-494-3661,

Jeff Roberts, 765-494-1730,

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