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On A Mission

Pitzer’s organization makes it unique among colleges

Kate RogersStudents who show up to Professor Kate Rogers’ Organizational Studies class expecting to learn how to get organized are in for a surprise.

“You only have to look at my office to see that I don’t have a clue on that one,” she said, laughing. “I can’t teach that. I do know why it is so hard for individuals and groups to get organized. That I know how to teach.”

Rogers was introduced to Organizational Studies as an interdisciplinary point of view and a social science when she was a graduate student.
“When I came to Pitzer, the College was one of the only places that I knew, in fact it is still one of the only places at an undergraduate level, that acknowledges there is a lot to be studied if you start with the idea of organizations and you ask what else needs to be studied in order to understand what’s going on in them. If you want to study this special thing about human beings, that they create these organizational cooperative systems, you need to know a little bit about economics, political science, psychology, anthropology and history. You can fashion it together elsewhere, but at Pitzer they had had the concept of, ‘Well, let’s put it together.’ ”

Pitzer offered Rogers many opportunities to find the answers to her questions outside of disciplinary boundaries and in turn teach her students in the same manner, she said.

“Interdisciplinary is just a way of saying maybe we’ve become sophisticated enough as individual fields that we see ways that we want to come back together,” she said. “The tributaries of knowledge branch and the tributaries then flow back into a larger scheme. Some of the people working on the inquiring edges of their fields are finding that they can gain greater understanding if they work with people from other fields.”

Pitzer was already profoundly interdisciplinary when Rogers arrived in 1986. Organizational Studies, a College field group created by professors Lew Ellenhorn, Rudi Volti and Jack Sullivan, was central to Pitzer’s commitment to understanding humans and their behavior. From its beginnings, Pitzer was built on mutual inquiry, a phrase Rogers used to describe the mission of the College. Interdisciplinary studies, she said, allow the community to further improve such inquiry.

“It seems like an indulgence at other schools,” Rogers said. “But the lack of turf building the field groups have been able to maintain for such a long period of time creates a sense of the College as a whole and allows people to go across their fields’ boundaries more comfortably than any institution that I know of.”

Kate Rogers and Mural

The College’s environment has provided the requisite fertile ground for Organizational Studies, which have flourished at the undergraduate level whereas similar programs are found only at the graduate level elsewhere. Rogers recounted how an organizational theorist at a major research university ran into the problem of keeping an undergraduate organizational studies center afloat. She said the only other program comparable to Pitzer’s is an honors program at Michigan, but it is quite small in scope.

“We do not construe Organizational Studies as business administration or business preparation study,” Rogers explained. “Since very few other schools, if any, have Organizational Studies as an undergraduate major, we are unique in programs of this type.”

Pitzer’s commitment to putting the fruits of its knowledge into action also gives its work in Organizational Studies a mission-driven perspective.

“Organizational Studies wants to make organizations better, more healthful, and more ethically responsible to the people associated with them, who work for them and in them,” Rogers said. “It might involve ergonomics or environmental issues. My interest is the critical studies of organizations, such as criticisms of the work process itself and of course the exploitative potential of organizations in different parts of the world.”

Rogers’ students have approached the field from a variety of perspectives. They often combine their interest in the major with other fields of study at Pitzer.

“Students combine Organizational Studies with Environmental Studies because they see the importance of administrative work in protecting the environment, protecting natural resources, perhaps working in government or working in some form of consulting where they need to know the interactions between large institutional regulatory groups,” Rogers explained.

“A student some years ago was interested in combining art history with Organizational Studies and I was very skeptical at the beginning. It turned out that it was very natural. She was interested in historic restoration and ultimately became interested in urban planning. I have had students who are interested in interpersonal communications, especially at work, or have special interests such as the advancement of women in particular fields. We have had graduates who work in fields as diverse as health care, mediation, housing development and consulting. Many go into teaching.”

Even though Pitzer’s program emphasizes a firm grounding in a variety of disciplines, there’s always more to learn, Rogers said.

“It is a fine line between saying we can do everything and we need to be aware of many things, because we cannot do everything,” she explained. “We can’t be experts in everything. We need to be aware of the ways in which different fields intersect with our interests so we know where to go. That is what every bachelor’s degree should be: helping people discover that when they have a question there could be a field that has actually looked into that and may have some answers.”

— Jay Collier

Next

Stuart Goldstein '86 on Pitzer Opportunities
Professor Kate Rogers on Organizational Studies
Jacque Kaster Torrens '92 on Linked Disciplines
Team-Taught Courses Integral to Pitzer Experience
Professor Dana Ward on Political Psychology
Michael Pearson '06 on Breadth of Understanding
 

An Interdisciplinary, Organizational Snapshot of Pitzer College

The Partcipant asked Professor Kate Rogers to cast a brief professional look at the College, from the vantage point of her field. The results? We're lucky to be here.

• Heavily mission driven
• Structure values involvement and commitment beyond the usual contractual relationships most people have with their work
• The College is intense, with faculty, staff, and students heavily invested and emotionally involved.
• Great potential for experimentation
• More comfortable with ambiguity than most places
• A strong, almost messianic sense that we are going to succeed, be different, and do something in a way that will be charismatic, attractive and draw in other people's energy

Overall, is is a very good profile for being creative, flexible and able to deal with modern problems. There's this mysterious cultural cloud, Rogers said, that we all seem to partake of, but it's definitely, tangibly there.