Promoting Advanced Study in America's New Public University

In developing a strategy to promote research and creative activity, Indiana University has formed an Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) that is ideally suited to a public university. Instead of attempting to imitate freestanding, privately endowed institutes that house fellows doing independent research, IU has chosen to follow a different path. IU has made this choice, in part, because support for such traditional institutes at public universities is probably not in the cards, given the current interests of potential benefactors. Nor, given the opportunity cost of such an enterprise, is it clear that this strategy would have been a good one for us to have followed, even had it been possible.

There was and is a more pressing need for a somewhat different sort of organizational instrument, in and of the university, to be used to identify internal research strengths and momentum. There is also the need to provide critical support at strategic points, particularly when that involves adding short-term strengths from outside by bringing outstanding research partners to IU's campuses. IU also has a need to offset the consequences of zero faculty growth and geographic isolation. Even increased use of the Internet and extensive scholarly publication cannot completely counteract the contraction in the regular infusion of new intellectual blood into the university. The question is, What is the best way to counter this growing threat to our institutional vigor? The strategy we have chosen is to strengthen and assist our regular faculty's efforts, instead of competing with them for funding or otherwise displacing their ongoing research. Increasing the intellectual vitality of the university was a key reason for the establishment of an internal Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study in 1981, and this purpose continues to shape the functions and activities of the institute today.

The IAS does no research on its own. As it has evolved, its primary mission is to support and accelerate the research ideas and scholarly and creative projects of IU faculty members that are underway but that are at a key juncture where they would benefit significantly from sustained consultation with external colleagues who are working in the same general area. Through our External Academic Fellowship program, we bring these colleagues to our campuses to work with our faculty rather than send our faculty elsewhere. This system thus provides incidental stimulation of other IU faculty members and graduate students in the same and related departments who have a chance to meet and interact with these visitors. By all reports, the benefits of these consultations have been enormous. They represent a wise use of our scarce resources in support of our faculty, irrespective of field or campus. The External Academic Fellowship program is our essential enterprise.

More recently, the IAS has been formally engaging our faculty in the discussion of issues affecting the setting within which advanced study takes place. Last year, the IAS held faculty forums on the problems facing graduate education and on the difficulties of changing direction in large universities. This year we are considering how the rise of the so-called digital age will change the nature of universities and of advanced study, and how we should relate to these developments and opportunities.

The institute is also concerned with the shortage of internal forums for cross-disciplinary discourse on common research themes and with the unrelenting tendency toward reductionism in the pursuit of basic knowledge. To offset this tendency, we are trying to find appropriate mechanisms to facilitate communication. The recently organized faculty seminar on cultural theory is one example of such a cross-disciplinary forum. The newly established Roger G. Newton Professorship also is designed to address this problem.

As we plan for the future at the institute, we are aware that the old ways are not necessarily the best ways for dealing with the new environment of advanced study. After you read about our current projects and recent fellows in the pages that follow, we would welcome your suggestions regarding new strategies for serving the research interests and creative output of our faculty. Please let us hear from you.

James M. Patterson, Director
Institute for Advanced Study
Indiana University Bloomington