Features  Down with departments

Divisions in academia don’t match up with contemporary problems

The current structure of the humanities and social sciences in academia doesn’t adequately address the real and pressing problems our world faces – problems that cross academic lines and demand an interdisciplinary approach. These divisions of knowledge block people from connecting their studies to social and political issues.

While there’s much to be said in favour of traditional academic disciplines, it still seems irresponsible that our educational institutions churn out career academics who specialize in obscure, often fruitless subject matters.

The pressing questions that one field of study might lead a student to ask will often require knowledge currently managed within another department. Problems in religious studies, to name just one example, might require a background in political science in order to be discussed and resolved in a contemporary context.

Area studies and interdisciplinary programs are a move in the right direction, toward the holistic education that’s necessary to apply what we learn to the world outside of the ivory tower. But these programs are not enough.

What’s needed is a compulsory interdisciplinary education where students would learn to connect the disparate academic disciplines in order to address intersectional problems. Issues surrounding traditional topics like sexual diversity and race, as well as other contemporary concerns like water and energy, demand this interdisciplinary approach: they need to be deconstructed from as many angles as possible.

We have two proposals that will enable the University to better equip students to deal with today’s multifaceted problems.

In their second or third year, students should choose an interdisciplinary field – like post-colonial or sexual diversity studies or food politics – and elaborate a project which they will work on in their third or fourth year, after getting a theoretical grounding in the subject. Alternatively, students could design a minor around a particular contemporary problem that they wish to address, and take courses that best prepare them to approach it.