Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

The enigmatic life of an interdisciplinary program

This week, I want to take a look at the program like Keith did in his post about intelligent cities.

One of the challenges the Program on Urban Studies faces, as an interdisciplinary program, is the lack of a dedicated faculty.  On the one hand, this means that students are allowed to take courses that relate to urban issues in any program.  On the other, this means that the program has little influence on what courses are actually taught at the university, and, more importantly, the direction in which the program trends.

Unfortunately, this problem is endemic to the way universities are structured.  Rather than organizing around “problems” (which, by nature have interdisciplinary solutions), universities organize around disciplines, like sociology, anthropology, economics, political science (all of which urban studies utilizes), which develop paradigmatic thinking that limit perspective.  Problematically, these have been entrenched into the way each scholar new to the discipline approaches his or her interests—after all, endearing oneself to a mentor is perhaps the best way into a doctorate program.

At our annual retreat on Wednesday, Professor Rosenfeld stressed the difficulties involved with recruiting an established professor to teach courses for the program, not to mention the difficulties involved in shaping that professor’s syllabus!  Instead, he argued, it has been, is, and will probably continue to be easier to attract a post-doc who needs to build his or her résumé, and will then, of course, pursue an assistant, associate, or full professorship in a discipline that has the resources to make the addition.

I don’t think the inclusion of intelligent cities curriculum in the major is necessarily a choice that the Stanford University Program on Urban Studies can currently make.  It is rather, President Hennessy’s choice to expand the resources available to interdisciplinary programs that are already contributing to the solutions of the world’s problems.  Then the Program on Urban Studies can make its choice.

-Gerad Hanono


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