With strong administrative backing and financial support, a new University of Arizona center has been initiated to support the research and creative work of faculty members in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
Named Confluence: A Center for Creative Inquiry, the institute was launched and is being chiefly funded by UA Provost Meredith Hay with additional support from the UA Office of the President.
"The arts, humanities and social sciences are critical elements of a premier university," Hay said.
"The UA is about solving problems and improving the human condition," Hay added. "Humanities, social sciences and the arts are foundational to addressing the grand human challenges facing our nation and world."
The creation of Confluence marks the UA's most comprehensive, administrative-level investment in an effort collectively supporting the three disciplines.
With its board and director just named and a location on East Helen Street near North Fremont Avenue set aside, Confluence will aid and help to improve faculty research and creative activity by providing necessary resources, networking and other support.
"The institute was founded with substantial institutional funds to address grand challenges with faculty working across disciplines and colleges," said Leslie Tolbert, the UA's vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development.
Tolbert emphasized "people and place" as key strengths, noting that the center's affiliate faculty members "have many opportunities to be unique."
Overall, Confluence exists to improve knowledge about the complex ways in which economic, political, social, cultural and other forces shape people's lives while supporting faculty members in interdisciplinary projects.
UA administrative support will fund the center's operations, seed grants, fellowships and other needs to also help faculty members compete more strongly for federal, foundation and donor funding.
The formation of the center is "critical" because "it validates the importance of the arts, humanities and social sciences in a research university," said Wanda H. Howell, a UA nutritional sciences professor who chairs the Faculty Senate.
"From that standpoint, it is a really clear message internally and external to campus that the University of Arizona is not just about the sciences and health professionals," Howell added.
At an operational level, the center matches that of the UA's BIO5 Institute, Institute on the Environment or the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, which, like Confluence, is another major center Hay initiated.
But it is unlike many comparable centers and institutes that exist nationally, said Steve Johnstone, an associate professor in the history department who has been appointed the center's director.
"Most other centers or institutes across the nation have a much narrower focus, so the challenge for the center – which also is an opportunity – is to encompass a very broad range of disciplines, modes of inquiry and ways of doing things," said Johnstone, also one of the center's main architects.
He and the center's board will spend the semester determining its research themes and other areas of focus.
"Our aim is to promote the best research and creative activity with regards to emerging problems," Johnstone said, adding that, in addition to graduate student scholarships, the center may also sponsor guest lecturers, workshops and conferences.
"What we're aiming for is an institute that is flexible and able to respond to trends around the world and also to emerging problems," Johnstone said. "What the center will do is to respond to the world."
Other board members are: Anne Betteridge, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies director; Maribel Alvarez, an associate research scientist with the Southwest Center; Linda Waugh, co-director of the Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language and Literacy; Peter Beudert, a theatre arts professor; Regents' Professors John Olsen, an anthropology professor, and Paula Fan, a music professor; Jackson Boelts, an art professor; Ken McAllister, an English professor; and Javier Duran, an associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese.
Additionally, the board will convene a community advisory board whose members are expected to be senior experts and professionals involved in local and national efforts related to the arts, humanities and social science.
The advisory board will provide direction and advice while also aiding the center in boosting its visibility and gaining external funds.
Waugh, who also chairs the Second Language Acquisition and Teaching's Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, said the advisory board will be important to the center's trajectory.
"We will be looking for people who are major figures in these areas who can help give us advice and focus on the visionary aspect of these disciplines," said Waugh, also a UA professor of French, English, anthropology, linguistics, and language, reading and culture.
Johnstone also said that while Hay initiated the institute, she has left it up to the faculty to shape the center and its direction: "The vision and generosity of the UA president and provost have really made the center possible, but its shape and scope is being determined by the faculty."