UCLA

Generation Next

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By Ajay Singh, Photos by Pete McArthur

Published Jan 1, 2008 8:00 AM


For example, an initial step toward disciplinary groupings was taken last October when a team of Nobel laureates engaged in a discussion with deans, faculty, scientists and researchers. The team's recommendations are expected in the winter.

There is wide agreement on campus that Chancellor Block's strong background in science and research makes him well-suited to understand what it means for a premier university to maintain its competitive edge by successfully confronting its grand challenges at a time when state funding for the university is just 15 percent of its total budget.

To promote high-impact collaborative research at a time when university budgets everywhere are so strained, funding itself is increasingly being focused on interdisciplinary efforts. Prime examples of this trend are the California NanoSystems Institute and the new Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, which recently attracted sought-after faculty from such renowned institutions as Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins.

There are several other examples of integrated fund-raising on the Westwood campus as well, including the effort to raise $65 million for a new Life Sciences building, in which staff from both the Geffen School of Medicine and the College of Letters and Science are working together to identify suitable philanthropic sources.

And in November, a $30-million endowment from the Herb Alpert Foundation supported the creation of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, bringing together three different departments: music, musicology and ethnomusicology. [See related story, page 10.] That gift will help students to enhance their academic study of music with a variety of courses in related fields such as the music business, music in the public sector, and music and health.

"Our professional responsibility to interdisciplinarity across the campus and the nation requires that we bring in professionals who are as nimble, intellectually curious and sophisticated as the scholarship itself," says Rhea Turteltaub, interim vice chancellor of external affairs. "Most schools are struggling with how to adapt to this kind of scholarship."

Whether the issue is modernizing health care, stem cell research, understanding climate change or mapping the human genome, "we do have the capacity and components to meet multidisciplinary challenges," adds Janette Miller, assistant vice chancellor of strategic planning for research.

One example of how this grand challenge is being addressed on campus is the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, a state-of-the-art multi-million-dollar medical facility located almost exactly midway between the engineering school and the new medical center.

The laboratory houses approximately 100 employees who use their expertise in neurology, genetics, physics, computation and statistics to explore one of the great and least-understood frontiers of science: the human brain.

The lab's founding director, Arthur Toga, is a spry man with graying hair who played a key role in designing and fund-raising for the multidisciplinary facility. Toga feels that multidisciplinary efforts on campus lack what he calls "a strong growth path." Individual departments tend to be overprotective of their turf, he explains, making it difficult for faculty to get joint appointments, which adversely affects hiring and retention.

"Our research funding is very healthy, but the research infrastructure that supports our ability to get that money is weak," explains Vice Chancellor for Research Roberto Peccei, pointing out that in 2006-'07, the university raised a record $930 million in research funding. "We need an encompassing strategic plan on how to do interdisciplinary research, particularly in the areas we are good at."

So what's in store for Generation Next, Bruin style? Hard to tell, since campus leadership is grappling with the issue on so many fronts, and the jury's still out on what ideas or policies will work best.

But here's what we do know: The drive to expand interdisciplinary initiatives while finding the funds to pay for it will intensify. The recruitment battle, defined in part by the graying of faculty, will be fierce. And the face of Bruin faculty will change.

But UCLA's commitment to excellence will remain.

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