Real Innovation, Not Corporate Modeling

If your institution has implemented RCM budgeting, you know that one of the main casualties of the model is interdisciplinary studies, especially across colleges. And given that most cutting-edge innovation is coming out of just those kinds of interdisciplinary study, the corporate management model is actually undermining one of the most significant ways in which university research might feed economic development.

Writing for the Roanoke Times, Robby Korth has reported on Virginia Tech’s significant commitment to developing not just interdisciplinary programs but interdisciplinary “areas” of study in which very innovative teaching, learning, research, and scholarship will be fostered. And it is hard to see how this approach will not benefit the more traditional disciplines within the university since most of them will contribute in some way to the work being done within new areas of study.

Here are the opening paragraphs of Korth’s article, describing the major elements of this truly innovative curricular approach:

“Virginia Tech announced Monday its five “destination areas” with a goal of changing the way students experience college.

“The school plans to put an initial $2.6 million into the plan next year. Students are scheduled to begin participating in the new system in 2018.

“Simply put, the university will offer a voluntary educational path in which students can take core classes but also pursue multiple, cross-disciplinary opportunities.

“The destination areas will be ‘revolutionary for higher education,’ Tech Provost Thanassis Rikakis wrote in an open letter Monday announcing the destination areas and a series of upcoming town hall-type meetings.

“Tech’s destination areas are:

–Adaptive Brain and Behavior Across the Lifespan: understanding the inner workings of the human brain.

–Data and Decision Sciences: using big data to solve problems.

–Integrated Security: finding ways to mitigate vulnerabilities to increase security.

–Intelligent Infrastructure and Human-Centered Communities: building effective and sustainable infrastructure by using technology.

–Resilient Earth Systems: finding ways to use technology to deal with issues from population growth.

“Destination areas aren’t physical spaces, but rather areas of study that students will tackle through their majors. Steering committees for each destination area have met about a dozen times since February.

“Tech has spent much of the academic year identifying areas of strength within the university through a multilayered visioning process called ‘Beyond Boundaries.’

“The goal of that process, as laid out in a letter from Tech President Timothy Sands, is to create a vision with two goals in mind: ‘advancing our status as an internationally-recognized, global land-grant institution, and strategically addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by the changing landscape of higher education,’ Sands wrote.

“Faculty members will be recruited to create new majors that will cross disciplines and subjects. Undergraduate students will also work on real-world scenarios instead of in traditional classroom settings. The new programs will alter funding and create new ways to draw in students, said Theresa Mayer, vice president for research and innovation.

“Students will be able to pursue traditional degrees while majoring in destination areas, Mayer said.”


Korth’s complete article is available at:



3 thoughts on “Real Innovation, Not Corporate Modeling

  1. I don’t consider the curtailment of interdisciplinary studies as necessarily a bad thing. In our Anthropology graduate program, we found over the years that students with interdisciplinary ug. majors tended to be long on eclecticism and “appreciation” but short on intellectual discipline and interest in analysis and explanation. Things like Asian, Latin American, Religious,…&c “Studies” are very good minors but not very good undergraduate sole majors. “Inter”disciplinary tend in my observation and experience to mean mastery of no discipline. Multidisciplinary implies mastery or at least some in depth command of more than one discipline — better but hard though not impossible for an undergraduate to attain.

    These programs at VPI however may become exceptions, since they seem more focused than most.

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