University of Vermont

University Communications

Honors College Seminar Gathers Diverse Faculty

Release Date: 08-22-2005

Contact: University Communications Staff
Phone: (802) 656-2005 FAX: (802) 656-3203

The scenario is out of a Hollywood suspense movie — well, one written by and for Ph.D’s, anyway: Twenty-one faculty from throughout the university spent three days in a conference room under the direction of Professor Robert Costanza, director of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, writing a transdisciplinary paper aimed at Science or Nature.

The topic of the second annual Honors College Faculty Seminar held Aug. 15-17 was quality of life — defining it, measuring it and enhancing it — an area that, Costanza and Honors College Associate Dean Abu Rizvi say, offered rich opportunity for collaboration across the university. Participants ranged from experts in biothetics to environmental engineering, sociology to ecology, psychology to physical therapy and beyond.

So how did it go? “We have a rough draft already,” says Costanza.

That’s impressive, because the group wasn’t aiming to produce literature review. They were after something new, a paper to reconcile and integrate two very different ways of looking at quality of life — “objective” measures like a country’s education, health care and income and various “subjective” measures of individual well-being — in an innovative way that identifies future research directions and provocative public policies. The new definition is flexible and integrative, operating at various scales and taking into account factors like leisure time, natural capital to form a picture of a society’s well being.

“This paper will have real influence if we get it published in the right place,” Costanza says. The group will refine the draft over the next few months and begin submitting it for publication within the next six months. He adds that developing full, accurate measures of quality of life is central to world governments and a wide range of academic disciplines. “How do you manage an economy or system if you don’t know what your goals are — or if your goals are misguided?” he says.

To achieve his ambitious goal of drafting a ground-breaking paper in just a few days, Costanza handed out an extensive pre-seminar reading list. He was pleased to see that not only did the participating faculty do the readings, they brought their own; the tables where morning coffee was served became the site of impromptu literature exchanges, as participants contributed papers from their own disciplines they felt would widen the conversation.

“It’s been great. There’s a real atmosphere of mutual respect, and a lot of provocative synergies of ideas,” says participant Linda MacDonald Glenn, adjunct assistant professor of nursing.

This was the second annual Honors College faculty seminar; the first, held last year, exposed faculty from across the campus to some of the ethical conundrums discussed in the college’s then-new first-year foundation course, “Making Ethical Choices: Personal, Public and Professional.” The seminars, Rizvi says, are an important part of the college’s mission to enrich the campus’s academic climate by forging ties among faculty of widely varying intellectual interests.

More information available at Honors College .