I’d like to start a forum here to discuss Mark Taylor’s article that just shot to the top of the most emailed list on the New York Times website. In this op-ed piece, the chair of the Religious Studies Department at Columbia University advocates getting rid of the University as it is currently structured by creating cross-disciplinary centers focusing on problems rather than hierarchical disciplines.
I spent a year studying interdisciplinarity, assisting a Matrix committee with research. There is some dynamic interdisciplinary work going on. That word is here used to cover all “cross” things, including cross-disciplinary–the least integrated, interdisciplinary–merging different disciplines and using different methodology, trans-disciplinary–sometimes defined as developing theories beyond disciplines (like Marxism), and creating new disciplines–bio-chemistry or cognitive science, for instance. It seemed to me that the most successful work was either transitory and cross-disciplinary–so the only real fusing going on was at the level of the committee (individual professors maintained their disciplinary standards and solved a problem through teamwork), or was the creation of entirely new disciplines that answered current questions more effectively.
But I still found in that year of study that most of interdisciplinarity was band-wagon jumping. It looked a whole lot like disciplinary work, but found a way to put an interdisciplinary label on it. Perhaps I had this sense because as historians, we dabble in each others disciplines all the time (more or often less effectively), while maintaining a sense of ourselves as historians. Much of interdisciplinarity seemed like dabbling.
So what did you think of Taylor’s suggestions for the university? As someone soon to be on the job market, I can understand the desire to not be constantly creating more graduates than can be hired. I can also understand wanting to streamline the graduate school process in some way that does not take so long. And yet, I do feel like I needed all this time to percolate and learn enough to write a comprehensive dissertation. (I could go on ruminating, but I will stop and hopefully you will chime in.)