Centers of Arts and Sciences
Academic departments are among the basic building blocks of the modern research university. Founded on academic disciplines--from anthropology to math and music to sociology--departments are responsible for organizing curricula and for faculty recruitment. In order to offer a broad range of courses, departments often endeavor to recruit faculty across the range of specialties within their discipline.
While the School of Arts and Sciences maintains the traditional structure of diverse academic departments, we also invest heavily in cross-disciplinary centers. Generally speaking, centers are more focused on a particular object of inquiry, such as cognition, or a particular problem, such as crime, than are departments. They present opportunities for collaboration across departmental boundaries and often serve as an important magnet for potential faculty members. I, myself, was drawn to the University of Pennsylvania primarily by the Population Studies Center and its associated interdisciplinary graduate group in demography.
The 26 centers in SAS are the principal nondepartmental structures for the organization of research. About one-third carry out research devoted to distinct regions of the world. The Center for the Advanced Study of India, the African Studies Center, the Center for East Asian Studies, the Korean Studies Center, the Middle East Center, and the South Asia Regional Studies Center unite the scholarship of humanities and social science faculty to illuminate how the complex of culture, institutions, and socio-political forces operate in discrete parts of the globe. While the academic world is part of the "globalization" process that may eventually level contours and promote cultural homogeneity, we are currently in a phase where knowledge of other societies is becoming more, rather than less, valuable.
Increased contact among societies does not invariably produce greater understanding and harmony. One of the School's newest centers is the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Enthnopolitical Conflict, which takes as its focus one of the most troubling and intractable problems of both the modern and ancient worlds. To develop insight into ethnopolitical conflict, the Asch Center draws expertise from many SAS departments such as psychology, anthropology, and political science and from several of Penn's other schools including Wharton, education, and medicine. The center has also drawn significant participation from neighboring institutions of higher education.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the Asch Center is its clinical component. The curriculum and field placement of fellows is aimed at training scientist-practitioners skilled at intervention in crisis situations and at evaluating interventions intended to relieve often desperate human need. Clinical psychology, the therapeutic branch of the academic discipline, can help heal the effects of stress and trauma for victims and combatants alike. The center's scholars and practitioners are also attempting to identify predictors of ethnic violence that might, through early intervention, avert the outbreak of violence in some of the world's trouble spots.
With nearly all indicators of the quality of life rising from decade to decade, it is easy to grow complacent about human prospects. But there is no question that political conflict fueled by ethnic enmity could send the world spinning into large-scale disorder. The Solomon Asch Center is unique in its focus on averting this possibility, and I am proud that it is part of the School of Arts and Sciences.