Inside SPEA

This Week’s Big Issue

There is much confusion outside of SPEA about our internal faculty organization. While many academic organizations have departments, SPEA is organized around faculty groups. I am frequently asked to explain the difference between faculty groups and departments and find that faculty, students and staff sometimes have a difficult time understanding the faculty group concept.

Since its founding, SPEA has sought to break-down traditional disciplinary boundaries by creating an environment where investigators from many applied fields working on pressing issues of the day can be encouraged and supported. Traditional disciplinary boundaries and the departmental organization found in many academic units can sometimes create boundaries that place limits on the type of research that is rewarded. Given the breadth and depth of issues covered at SPEA, departments were seen as cutting against the need for flexibility and agility.

In SPEA Bloomington, faculty groups are directed by a faculty chair. Faculty chairs have many of the same responsibilities as department chairs. Faculty chairs are responsible for leading the scholarly mission of the School by working on faculty recruitment and development, and connecting faculty members with others in their field through research seminars. The primary differences are that they are not responsible for running educational programs, dealing with student or faculty complaints, or managing departmental support staff, as is typically the case for department chairs. Since many of SPEA’s academic programs cut across our faculty groups, our educational programs are run by directors who report to the Dean’s Office. More information on our faculty groups can be found at:

I suspect there are many different views on the strengths and weaknesses of the faculty group structure. Some are likely to argue it has served the School well since its founding in the early 1970s, whereas others are likely to express their disappointment that the level of cross-faculty group collaboration has been underwhelming and individual faculty members have not taken advantage of the flexibility offered by faculty groups.

Putting aside the virtues of the faculty group concept, SPEA’s growth will present challenges for how best to organize itself. Faculty groups centralize much of the decision making in the Dean’s Office. This is manageable in a smaller organization, but will present real issues as the School continues to grow on the Bloomington campus.

While Deans play a role in answering these questions, the faculty controls the decision of how best to organize our scholarly activity.

What’s Happening in SPEA Bloomington?

It was wonderful to see so many students, faculty and staff at the Indiana 9th Congressional District Debate hosted by SPEA Bloomington. We had a strong turnout (the place was packed with over 500 guests) and everyone got a chance to participate in a meaningful exchange of ideas. Brian DeLong, IU’s debate coach and new SPEA faculty member, did a great job under very difficult circumstances. He was able to minimize the cheers and jeers that go along with a passion filled political debate. Fortunately, we did not have to expel members of the audience for unruly behavior. The debate will be broadcast on CSPAN. When I have the air time, I will pass along the details. If you missed the debate, you can view it on youtube:

SPEA’s Big Number

This week’s big (or low) number for SPEA Bloomington is the total amount of indirect cost on grants/contracts by SPEA faculty in FY2009-10: $658,622. This is a the lowest since FY1995-96.

Shout-Out to SPEA Bloomington

Please join me in congratulating SPEA (students, faculty and staff) on the recent National Research Council rankings of 5,000 university doctoral programs in 59 fields of study. Data for these rankings capture program activity between 2002 and 2006. These rankings are based on measures of doctoral program quality in a particular field, not just perceived rankings based on prestige. While the ranking methodology makes it difficult to establish a fixed order, it is fair to say that we are outranked by Princeton (between #1 and #2) and are neck-and-neck with Carnegie Mellon (between #2 and #5) and Syracuse (#4 according to both methodologies). We outrank a number of excellent schools. There are only two other doctoral programs on the Bloomington campus (Musicology in the Jacob School of Music and Folklore/Ethnomusicology in COAS) with rankings equal to or better than the rankings of SPEA’s public affairs and public policy doctoral programs. I encourage you to explore the data and see how we compare to other doctoral programs around the country. The data can be found at:


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