The Paradox Of Multidisciplinary Programs

Universities are traditionally organized into departments. This organization is more than some quaint academic custom-it evolved for solid reasons. A department provides a home for scholars having similar interests and backgrounds, somewhat like a family. It keeps the truth and determines the future directions of a field. A department is also the natural teaching unit, particularly at the undergraduate level. Indeed, to be a faculty member in a university and not a member of some department is

Richard Zare
May 25, 1997

Universities are traditionally organized into departments. This organization is more than some quaint academic custom-it evolved for solid reasons. A department provides a home for scholars having similar interests and backgrounds, somewhat like a family. It keeps the truth and determines the future directions of a field. A department is also the natural teaching unit, particularly at the undergraduate level. Indeed, to be a faculty member in a university and not a member of some department is usually to be a marginalized university citizen-lost, homeless, and likely alienated.

I can attest to this fact from some personal experience. In the late 1960s, I was on the faculty of the University of Colorado as an assistant professor with an untenured position supported equally by the physics and chemistry departments there. It was a most disagreeable situation in which I received twice as many committee assignments but each department regarded me as...

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