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Thursday, March 03, 2011 - SurPriSe: Collaboration influences new research, enhances education

MIS Professor Thomas Lauer has been interested in privacy and security practices for years. But it wasn’t until a conversation with colleague Jay Meehan, sociology professor and chair, Department of Sociology and Anthropology in OU's College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), that he realized how greatly one’s chosen field shapes one’s perspectives of these areas.

 

“I came at it from a technology standpoint,” says Lauer, who is also the DIS chair. “I’ve taught classes on privacy and security since the mid 1990s, and I talk about surveillance in the context of both privacy and security. But people in sociology think surveillance is even more important because it enables sorting people into social groups. The groups can then be treated differently.”

 

The professors agreed that privacy and surveillance, coupled with security, deserved a closer look.

 

“We decided we would organize a truly multi-disciplinary group of people,” says Lauer, who helped recruit about 25 OU faculty from such fields as philosophy, engineering and health science in addition to business disciplines and sociology.

 

The result was the SurPriSe Learning Community, which explores surveillance, privacy and security.

 

Cross-campus support

 

Lauer knew they were on to something unique. Developing the idea for the group was one thing; implementing it was another. “It’s unusual to get faculty from across the disciplines talking to each other,” Lauer says. But shared interest in the topics has served as a rallying point.

 

“In conversations, we discovered how much our disciplines provided a lens for looking at these topics even to the extent that we differed in our understandings of these basic three terms,” Lauer says.

 

Last year, the committee received a Faculty Learning Community designation from the university to further explore the issue.

 

The committee has expanded its reach beyond its members and is sharing its observations across campus through a variety of events.

In November 2010, the committee hosted “Between Homeland Security and Facebook: Surveillance Studies Today” by Professor David Lyon, research chair in Sociology and director of the Surveillance Studies Centre and the New Transparency Project at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada. Lyon is one of the world's leading experts on surveillance studies. This event was sponsored by the SBA's Center for Integrated Business Research and Education (CIBRE) and CAS' Frontiers and Borders program.

Another SurPriSe presentation last fall, “The Clash between Individual Rights and National Security in Border Crossings,” featured panelists Patrick Corbett, professor of criminal law, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and Shelli Weisberg, legislative director, Michigan ACLU, along with Professor Meehan. Julie Walters, assistant professor, political science, served as moderator.

Lauer envisions future panel discussions on identity technology and more talk on border crossings. He hopes more students, faculty and community members will weigh in on the discussions and explore these issues for themselves.

Business community interest

“You can’t really understand these areas from only one discipline. We’re able to shed more light on it and bring it forward in a new way through dialogue,” says Lauer.

Business leaders who learn about the collaborative approach agree; this type of collaboration is laying the groundwork for projects that could have an immediate impact on today's business world.

"Personally, I think the approach is brilliant," says Ken Janke, SBA MBA '85, senior vice president, Aflac. "Before now, I had not spent any time thinking just how closely the topics are interrelated and, more likely, in potential conflict. This integrated approach is not only timely and necessary, but reflects very advanced thinking and will be critical in the future."