UVA’s College of Arts & Sciences is preparing for its next incarnation. Last week, UVA announced that a five-year, $2.9 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation would fund 10 faculty hires in interdisciplinary fields. Those hires will be part of the Institute of Humanities and Global Cultures, a new collaborative arts and sciences framework at UVA.
However, those hires represent only 5 percent of the new faculty that the college expects to make in the next six to eight years. According to Meredith Woo, Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, UVA will hire an estimated 200 new faculty for the largest of its 12 schools—a number that represents more than one-third of its 559 current faculty members.
UVA English professor Michael Levenson, who recently published Modernism, will head the Institute of Humanities and Global Cultures.
“In the next five to seven years, we have an unprecedented opportunity to take the college to a new place,” said Woo. During that time frame, more than 100 Arts & Sciences faculty will reach age 70 or higher and choose to retire. More will disembark for other teaching gigs. And Woo anticipates that the college will absorb more than half of the 1,500-plus students President Teresa Sullivan hopes to add to the current student body by 2018. Woo added that a third of Arts & Science students are currently studying STEM disciplines—the science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors identified as growth areas by Governor Bob McDonnell’s Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment.
In short, the College of Arts & Sciences is poised for an eruption —new faculty teaching more students about interconnected disciplines. That eruption begins with the Institute of Humanities and Global Cultures, which will start searches for faculty in the next academic year. UVA English professor Michael Levenson, who recently published Modernism after two decades of modern literature analysis and field-leading research, will lead the institute, which has roots in the sort of interdisciplinary work that Woo has encouraged at UVA.
Levenson said the idea for the institute was developed in discussions between him, Spanish professor David Gies, English professor Rita Felski and late philosopher and professor Richard Rorty. “We formed ourselves into a committee and started to advocate for a humanities center,” said Levenson. “We got excited, disenchanted, excited and disenchanted. And through the great work of [former Arts & Sciences associate dean] Bruce Holsinger and Meredith Woo, it suddenly came to pass last year.”
Levenson’s modernism studies overlap, time-wise, with UVA’s inception. If modernism is restless change, the constant proliferation of new ideas and creative schematics, then the “acceleration of change,” as Levenson calls it, begins in the early 19th century. And while there is reverence throughout the school for its academic stars, from Thomas Jefferson through figures like Richard Rorty, Woo said her college is interested in “creating new scholarly constellations.”
“Sometimes, we say ‘interdisciplinary’ and the word seems overused,” said Woo. “But it’s really critical to create new knowledge that transcends disciplinary boundaries created in the last 150 years. I’m very confident, and I believe both UVA and the college are really taking the lead in this regard.”