New Center to Focus on Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences

UA administrators said the creation of Confluence, an interdisciplinary institute focused on faculty research and support, is considered one of the strongest forms of administrative-level support for the arts, humanities and social sciences.
Sept. 22, 2010
Steve Johnstone, a UA history professor, has been named director of the new center. Johnstone also chairs the center's executive board, which is composed of nine other faculty members representing music, English, anthropology, language arts, Middle Eastern studies and other disciplines.
Steve Johnstone, a UA history professor, has been named director of the new center. Johnstone also chairs the center's executive board, which is composed of nine other faculty members representing music, English, anthropology, language arts, Middle Eastern studies and other disciplines.
UA Provost Meredith Hay envisioned a center that would help faculty in the arts, humanities and social sciences to work more collaboratively, capitalize on their expertise and compete more strongly for external funds. The result: Confluence: A Center for Creative Inquiry.
UA Provost Meredith Hay envisioned a center that would help faculty in the arts, humanities and social sciences to work more collaboratively, capitalize on their expertise and compete more strongly for external funds. The result: Confluence: A Center for Creative Inquiry.

A new University of Arizona center has been created to support faculty and students in the fine arts, humanities and social sciences. 

Meredith Hay, UA's executive vice president and provost, strongly supported the creation of the center, called Confluence: A Center for Creative Inquiry, to promote the research-related and creative activities of the faculty.

Overall, Confluence exists to create synergies and network opportunities for faculty members across disciplines while also providing grant funding for various projects and other activities. The center also will provide funding for graduate assistantships.

In October, Hay convened the Provost’s Strategic Advisory Council for the Arts, Humanities, and Social
Sciences to plan a workshop with faculty to think up the possibilities for such a center.

More than 90 faculty members were involved in the workshop, held in March, providing the foundation for a proposal for the center's creation.

Hay said the three disciplines are "critical elements of a premier university" and that the center's creation marks the greatest institutional investment the UA has made to an interdisciplinary organization focusing on the arts, humanities and social sciences.

"It is critical that we influence our students to write well, think 
critically, relate to one another, communicate effectively and 
cultivate artistic expression," Hay said, noting that Confluence is an "investment" that helps to achieve that goal. 

Hay provided the initial funding for the center, which also is being supported by funds from the Office of the President

The 10-member board for Confluence was named earlier this month with Steve Johnstone, an associate professor in the UA history department, as its director. 

"The world is a complicated place and what is a problem or area of interest today may not be the main problem tomorrow," Johnstone said. "What we're aiming for is an institute that is flexible."

The center will be located on East Helen Street near North Fremont Avenue and its staff will report directly to Leslie Tolbert, the UA's vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development.

Wanda Howell, chair of the Faculty Senate, said this type of institutional support signals to faculty and staff in the arts, humanities and social sciences that "they are valued." 

And while the center is keenly focused on those three areas, an expectation exists that faculty will work with others in science, medicine, business and other disciplines across campus.

"I think the board will try to remain open to learning from the faculty what it is that they need to do their work," Johnstone said. "We won't just be dictating, but responding. We want to help them bring their work to fruition." 

One of several key functions for Confluence will be to help faculty leverage and become more competitive for federal, foundation and donor dollars. 

"There are so many opportunities for really exciting things to happen for the faculty and the students in areas that weren't given this type of funding before," said Linda Waugh, a Confluence board member who also co-directs the UA's Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language and Literacy.

Waugh, also a French and Italian professor, said that in addition to creating scholarships, the center also intends to support guest lecturers. Other opportunities may include workshops, conferences and support for pursuing external funding, particularly in the form of federal grant and foundation dollars. 

The potential for synergistic collaborations and the fact that Confluence was born out of the Transformation Plan are important points, said Howell, a nutritional sciences professor. 

Some faculty members and others were dismayed to learn about budget reductions that affected the arts and humanities, but the support for the center is sending a strong message that such disciplines are highly regarded, she said. 

"The provost could talk about the importance of these disciplines, but until she created this and provided the funding, people were wondering if she meant it," Howell said. "I think this is the first step in convincing people that there is more value at this University beyond the sciences."