The Multidisciplinary Imperative in Higher Education, by C. Judson King


Disciplines codify related knowledge and have developed powerful approaches that enable both solutions to a wide variety of problems and efficient further extension of knowledge. Individual disciplines have translated into individual departments within universities. Academic departments tend to turn inward, deepening the knowledge within the discipline. Because of this inwardness, the differing methodological approaches among disciplines, and the reward systems within disciplines and universities, it is difficult for faculty to reach outside their disciplines and departments, so as to share knowledge and/or mine knowledge at the intersections of disciplines. However, world needs and opportunities are increasingly complex and require integrated, in-depth contributions from multiple disciplines for progress. Means for universities to encourage and facilitate multidisciplinary activities include organizational structure, incentive budgeting, and leadership and resources that enable directors of multidisciplinary units to negotiate effectively with academic department chairs. Major competitive initiatives involving large resources have proven particularly effective. New universities have opportunities for multidisciplinary research and teaching that would be much more difficult within existing universities. Today’s university graduates must be able to work effectively with persons from other disciplines and understand enough of the basic vocabulary and methodologies of other disciplines to enable that collaboration. A liberal undergraduate education addresses those needs, where the definition of “liberal” encompasses courses reflecting many different disciplines, including the natural sciences and even some engineering. Professions are properly placed at the graduate level, built upon a foundational liberal education. Engineering should join the other professions by changing to that structure.

C. Judson King
Publication date: 
September 1, 2010
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
C. Judson King. (2010). THE MULTIDISCIPLIPLINARY IMPERATIVE IN HIGHER EDUCATION. UC Berkeley: Center for Studies in Higher Education.