In the first half of 2014, Carleton University deliberately eliminated its two flagship undergraduate interdisciplinary programs: integrated science (IIS) in the faculty of science and directed interdisciplinary studies (DIS) in the faculty of arts & social sciences. This decision was made with full support of the provost and deans of the two respective faculties. Ironically, this occurred simultaneously with the provincial government approving a strategic mandate agreement (SMA) with Carleton in which we stressed our interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as interdisciplinary research that we tout as often involving undergraduates. At a minimum, we should immediately and explicitly inform the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU) about this egregious bait-and-switch regarding interdisciplinary programs.
I am sure there will be talk about Carleton replacing these two recently defunct very interdisciplinary programs with new ones, albeit failing to mention that these other programs will be far less interdisciplinary. The possible new putatively interdisciplinary programs (e.g. health science) appear to have no more breadth than all of our classic silo programs. The two defunct flagship interdisciplinary programs offered something truly novel and dangerous, namely academic freedom. We tend to think of academic freedom as applying only to faculty and very rarely to graduate students. But IIS and DIS gave their undergraduate students a huge amount of rope, which they could use for amazing things or to tie a noose. Yes, these were high variance programs, but ones that really did not cost that much for potentially very high returns.
Traditional undergraduate degree programs limit the possibilities for interdisciplinary exploration through a seemingly excessive number of required courses and restricted opportunities to take electives. Our traditional programs are so overloaded with required courses that the undergraduate calendar is a labyrinth; that the registrar’s office builds special computer tools for students to navigate the labyrinth; and the university still has to hire special advisors for students to find their ways through the labyrinth. The two recently defunct interdisciplinary programs were radically different. They gave students breadth, while allowing them room to breathe and think. Our two truly creative undergraduate programs have been summarily eliminated, despite vocal dissent. We are left with a number of purported interdisciplinary degree programs that pre-determine (i.e. eliminate) the creative combinations that IIS and DIS left open to students. We are creating graduating classes of followers, not leaders. We are creating graduating classes of doers, not thinkers. Carleton University (College?) is becoming more of a trade school every day. That may be the sort of differentiation that our upper administration (I cannot call that ‘leadership’) wants, but it seems utterly reckless to me.