Len Fisk Comments

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Len Fisk 20080117

I would like to submit for your consideration some revisionist thoughts concerning the draft AOSS strategic plan.

The plan as it is constructed is a very traditional strategic plan, which basically says keep up the good work. It goes out of its way to be exclusive, restricting the primary mission of AOSS to be climate, space weather, and planetary physics. And in particular makes a point that air-quality, atmospheric chemistry, high-density physics and comets will not to be drivers on faculty hires.

President Coleman is currently making a big issue about promoting interdisciplinary activities, putting up 100 young faculty lines. It may be a fad of course but it is not an unreasonable position to assume that the University, and in fact all universities will progressively move towards breaking down the limiting barriers of departments and Colleges, and encourage interdisciplinary research and education.

AOSS’s most unique strength is that it is an inherently interdisciplinary department. You can argue how effectively we do it, but we certainly do more than any other department than I am aware of, and we have the potential for much more.

My question then is whether we should structure our strategic plan around our interdisciplinary capabilities, as they affect the university’s push to become more interdisciplinary. Should we argue that we are a nexus department, which can serve as the central hub that can facilitate other broader university interdisciplinary initiatives.

Climate is certainly an obvious case. Our argument here would be that we are not just building a capable climate department, but rather that no successful university-wide climate initiative is possible without our participation and our hires are necessary to allow us to pay that role.

Energy is another obvious case. The university is planning a major effort in energy research – climate is again an issue that needs to be included; however, the technical capabilities of AOSS may also be useful.

Paul Drake’s high density plasma physics effort is also a natural. It is inherently interdisciplinary, and we could argue that it is strengthened by the connections to space plasma physics.

If the Physics Department wants to build space instrumentation, as I believe Greg Tarle is now doing, they have to come to SPRL for this capability.

Thomas Zurbuchen’s current entrepreneurial efforts are inherently interdisciplinary and have strong connections throughout the College and to the Business School

I even have some nascent connections with the School of Public Policy who list my course on Space Policy and I usually deliver a lecture there each year.

The hands-on teaching we do provides students from throughout the College with important practical experiences. The MENG program in space systems, which we share with AERO, is interdisciplinary and succeeds only because we bring the experience and capability to teach the actual practice of building space systems.

It may help here that AOSS has half of the Distinguished University Professors in the College, Joyce and I. My understanding of this position is that I am supposed “to pursue teaching and scholarly activities that ensure the greatest contributions to the University” including teaching assignments in departments, schools and colleges outside my own. In practice, of course, I don’t do anything different than I have always done.

Within our own department we would benefit from considering our various disciplines as more interdisciplinary. In my opinion the discipline of space weather would benefit from taking a system approach. The Earth sciences, who pioneered Earth system science a few decades back, can provide some valuable lessons; also there are commonalities in modeling and data assimilation between space weather and Earth system modeling.

And so forth.

The strategic plan for AOSS would then be to position the department to be more of a university department, which supports and facilitates interdisciplinary research and education across the university. This is to be contrasted with the strictly College-centric approach in the current plan, e.g. the first strategic goal in the current draft plan is to make a meaningful contribution to the educational mission of the CoE.

I hasten to add that my proposed approach would be dead-on-arrival with our previous Dean, Steve Director, who only saw things through his College perspective. I have no knowledge of how this would play with Dave Munson.

Thanks for considering my thoughts.

Len