August 15, 2022

Crossing Boundaries: A New Very Old Tradition at CGU

Guest post by Joshua Goode, Associate Professor of Cultural Studies and History.

For its leaders and faculty past and present, the purpose of a CGU education has always been rooted in and benefited from the university’s unique characteristics: its liberal arts tradition and its small size. Both of these attributes support the goal of training students deeply in specialized fields while also taking advantage of the university’s intimate connections between its schools and fields of study to encourage collaborative work across the disciplines. While the liberal arts tradition still underwrites much of collegiate teaching in the United States, higher education has experienced periods of both energetic support for interdisciplinary work and moments of decline and disfavor when greater and more specialized training seemed more attuned to the historical context. The growth of interdisciplinary work of the 1920s and then again in the 1970s and 1980s has been met at other moments with retrenchment and greater specialization. The decades immediately following World War II era saw a greater concentration in focused disciplines; specialized knowledge was needed in an increasingly complex technological, competitive and globalized world. By the 1970s, with growing enrollments that included vast increase in the numbers of people attending universities, interest in cross-cutting themes and in new approaches, and the arrival of new people and subject matters in the university curriculum, led to the formation of interdisciplinary study and research centers, journals, and even new fields, often known with monikers like American Studies, Peace Studies, Women’s Studies, and Ethnic Studies, that implied that scholars and students from variety of fields would be engaged in the study of a particular topic, concept or group. Collective wisdom born of different fields of study combined to bring a wide range of expertise to new areas of research, to the classroom and to the lab.

Throughout its history, CGU has maintained an openness to disciplinary boundary crossing, to be both a university of ideas and a university that offered specialized degrees. Even in its early years, CGU’s presidents promoted the values of interdisciplinary training. Russell Story, CGU’s third president, wanted teachers trained at CGU in the 1930s to know multiple fields of knowledge; the math teacher was better if he or she could also be a history teacher. President Louis Benezet told graduates in 1966 that “our responsibility for education in ideas and in orientation to society is not really changed. We must find out how to teach this to students over a broader intellectual range; and we must find out how to encourage professors to develop a fondness for this kind of inquiry and for the type of imaginative teaching that it implies.” The university of ideas would now be called upon to interact in harmony with the university of degrees and disciplines.

For many at CGU, this intellectual openness also was a harbinger of greater access to the university. In 1940, Edwin Embree, then president of the Julius Rosenwald Fund a foundation devoted to bringing primary school education to the poorest, most neglected parts of the country—lauded the graduate school for its crossing of disciplines:

I should like to see Claremont make a frontal attack on the question: how diverse peoples may live together happily and successfully in a rapidly shrinking world. The solution of this vital problem involves many kinds of study, many approaches, which, for the convenience of the academic schedule, we often think of a separate disciplines…but the unity of the [problem] and the directness of the objective CALL for cohesion and interplay among these subjects.

It is hard to imagine a clearer link between an American ethos of diversity in both its population and in its educational mission. Complex problems require complex solutions. Complex solutions require both deep training in disciplines but also the more complex work of combining approaches and seeing connections across boundaries.

This approach stretches across the history of CGU. In 1975, the history faculty of CGU in a seeming effort to heed Benezet’s call nine years earlier for imaginative teaching wrote of their dedication to revamp their department curriculum:

From the very beginning we have sought to stimulate students to design their own programs and to seek out the methods they find most promising in furthering their personal aims and professional ambitions…our principal objective centers on experimenting toward developing true interdisciplinary education on the graduate level and on gearing our studies toward training students as individuals with their own unique interests and talents.

As the History department report implies, an openness to boundary crossing remains novel at the graduate level. But CGU has long favored it precisely because applying one’s specialized knowledge to the “world’s great conversation” that Blaisdell always imagined, has become a lofty yet fairly common goal. One needs first the specialization in a field that only takes place at the graduate level. Then, one can use the specialized knowledge of one field to interact and converse with specialists from other fields, to find combined and complex answers to difficult questions, to acknowledge that complex problems require multiple expertise to solve. To forge the pathways for crossing boundaries, one needs a university faculty and student body open to imagining how these connections can be made. Experimentation, even of the intellectual kind, can only take place in the university; in fact, it is has long been CGU’s purpose.

By the end of the 20th century, the twin challenges of globalization and a concern for “hyper-specialization” among university programs and faculty research around the country led many to realize that any intellectual disposition for interdisciplinarity had to be tethered to institutional structures that would bolster it and allow it flourish. In 2003, CGU’s Transdisciplinary Program came into being as a result of a substantial donation from an alumnus of CGU, Dr. George Kosmetsky and his spouse, Ronya. Fostering conversations across disciplinary domains, the T-program supported both research and teaching that put front and center the way that different fields of specialized knowledge would approach problems and then sought alloyed answers to these questions from different scholarly fields. The T-program has promoted research and dissertation grants, new course designs, external and internal partnerships and new graduate programs and innovative degrees. To ensure that this approach achieved cornerstone status at CGU, the faculty required that all doctoral students across the entire university take one T-course. Here, as the then President Steadman Upham said, students would see “the interconnectedness of different bodies of knowledge, the unity of the disciplines, and the importance of thinking holistically when approaching complex, multi-dimensional problems.” Later, a collaborative project was added to these courses to train students to work with other students from other fields to solve a common problem. T-courses also strongly encourage guest speakers, practitioners, partners from outside the university to interact with students, to demonstrate how “real-world” problems require disparate approaches to solve them. Thus, added to its collaborative and interdisciplinary approach was also one more pillar of CGU’s historical approach to graduate education, opening the gates of the university, or as Provost Patricia Easton has put it, “inviting people to campus to test their ideas in an intellectually open and collaborative environment.”

The Cadigan Building aspires to be another step in this tradition of crossing disciplines and boundaries to produce better answers to complex questions and to open the doors of the university to as many people as possible. This newest building will hopefully rest on the oldest foundations of the university. The planned home for Drucker School of Management Programs, and the School of Art and Humanities, the Cadigan Building is structured around interdisciplinary exchange. With an acute sense that all university work, especially work in the humanities can and should be applied to and engage with the outside world, there is also a strong drive among the future tenants to have their new home be a beacon and center of outreach and exchange with both internal and external partners. An applied approach to the Liberal Arts already defines the School of Arts and Humanities. Museums, archives, arts organizations, media companies, community groups, among many others, are just some already existing partners that help train our students and reflect the wide-ranging networks that CGU has long fostered in southern California. If, as Peter Drucker was wont to point out, that management was a liberal art, what he meant and what CGU has long pursued, is a sense that good leadership requires a well-rounded education even, or especially, at the graduate level. The Cadigan Building can be a new center for this old and new tradition. As Malcom Douglass, a longtime faculty member here at CGU from 1954 to 1999 and the son of the graduate school’s first full-time faculty member, Aubrey Douglass, put it in 2010, CGU has always imagined that at its center is a student exploring a multi-disciplinary world with inter-disciplinary tools and questions, engaging in a continuous conversation with faculty personally involved in her or his intellectual and social life…As [Blaisdell] said “the center of a college is in great conversation.”

Goode, Joshua. “Crossing Boundaries: A New Very Old Tradition at CGU.” In Designing for Ingenuity and Innovation: A Design Research Collaboration between CGU and SCI-Arc, 24-26. Claremont Graduate University and SCI-Arc, 2022.