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Communities of Excellence: Background and Vision

Bee colony in SiloCity Bee Dwelling

Realizing UB 2020 is a plan to invest our resources, build on our strengths, and achieve our UB 2020 aspirations.  We will increase our distinctiveness and impact by addressing the toughest challenges facing our society, mankind, and the planet.  We note that such challenges do not yield to narrow disciplinary interests.  Therefore, addressing these issues requires truly interdisciplinary research and education – not the evolution of a new discipline, but collaboration across disciplinary lines.  

Through our strategic plan, we have chosen to be leaders and we have defined leadership around our capacity to attack the difficult problems and questions of our time.  Our vision is that UB will further develop the capacity to undertake multidisciplinary research, education, and engagement, and invest in important, defined areas.  Our conversations have led us to establish  Communities of Excellence.

Communities will address areas of human/social/global concern that require thought leadership and significant attention from multiple disciplines.  The issues selected and/or approaches to solving them will be derived from and linked to UB themes of humanity, justice, environment, innovation and health.

In communities, scholars from across the campus will work in groups focused on finding solutions to complex challenges.  Faculty members involved with Communities will earn distinction as thought leaders in their disciplines who work on the most relevant topics and shape the way that others approach them.  Ultimately these investments will define areas of UB leadership and thus how we are perceived by our peers and by our community. 

In directing our attention and resources to large questions, we are not signaling a desire to evolve new disciplines or degree structures.  Instead we will confront challenges of such magnitude that the knowledge of many disciplines is needed to create coherent, implementable and sustainable solutions.  In this process we are not privileging a particular discipline.  We are empowering thought leaders from across disciplines by providing the colleagues, institutional resources and infrastructure necessary for participants to thrive. These thought leaders will be recognized within their disciplines for delivering transformative education, scholarship, creative activities, clinical services, and engagement.

The community creates a forum for integrating the educational and scholarly processes across department and degree structures. Faculty will be drawn to participate by the intellectual and creative content of the community and the capacity of the community to address issues of interest.  However, faculty report to departmental chairs, have their teaching assignments decided by chairs, participate in departmental activities of recruiting, educating, and conducting scholarship.  The individual is embedded in a department, but is also part of multiple groups within and outside that department.  The result is that we need a coordinating structure that is more complex than in colleges of a century ago.  This is a recognition that while the foundational structure of the university is strong, our aspirations of leadership and vibrancy necessitate allowing faculty and students to act in concert across disciplinary boundaries to address the challenges of our time.  Communities will thus balance multiple interests and allow us to of promote genuinely interdisciplinary collaborations and opportunities yet preserve historical university structures.

Building Communities of Excellence

Communities will be established through a process involving a call for proposals, review by deans, external reviews, establishing faculty leaders for the communities and detailed development of educational, scholarship and governance structures, which will involve multiple deans, chairs and faculty members.  The Communities of Excellence will not simply be a faculty hiring plan, but will also involve support infrastructure including staff and student support, vital instrumentation/infrastructure, development of shared resources, or dedicated space to house a community.  Community proposals should identify what investment is needed to build the strongest multi-disciplinary teams to confront the most pressing global challenges.  Communities are expected to consider external sources of investment (e.g., extramurally funded projects/programs) to best leverage the community’s goals and potential for significant, sustained impact.  The basis of any community will be the big ideas that come forward, but will be grounded in the faculty teams that will serve as its foundation.