One of the ideas that has become increasingly important in the second half of the 20th century and especially now in the 21st century, is the idea that systems have a rhetoric. Just like books, TV shows, and movies, systems are making arguments as they are used. This is essentially what the study of games is, the study of rhetorical structures in systems/institutions. But I digress. Systems have rhetorical structures.
What does the structure have to say about us as a college? For one thing, the shift from the old distribution requirements (ending with the class of 2013) and the new requirements (starting with the class of 2014) de-links the old structures (Social Studies, Humanities, Sciences, etc.) from what we value as a college. However, I think we can go further.
There are two things that make up any major/department structure, from a student’s perspective: content and methodology. The content is pretty obvious, physicists tend not to deal with social issues and social scientists tend not to study particles.
However, I have a bit of a different thesis. I think content , i.e. the stuff we study, is almost wholly irrelevant. Now before you get out your pitchforks, hear me out. I’m not trying to say that content is stupid or that we shouldn’t enjoy it or use it as a deciding factor when we pick our majors. I’m arguing that from the perspective of those designing the college experience, content should not be a determining factor when we discuss relationships between departments. Right now, the value of content is decreasing rapidly because of the ease with which material can be pirated and the rate at which new content is being created.
Content is something that we the users (the students) will find linkages between with or without the college telling us. I think it’s rather simple to see the connection between Studio Art and Art History, with or without their grouping. However, I don’t actually see the two as being fundamentally related. Now, again, I’m not saying that they should not work closely together or anything like that. Of course they should, they have similar content! What I am saying is that we should restructure our understanding of college departments to draw stronger linkages between departments with similar methodologies even though they might have wildly different subjects.
Let me give you an example. Right now, according to the college structure, the Computer Science department is more closely related to the Math department than the Studio Art department. But actually, methodologically it has a lot more to do with Studio Art than it does Math. This might sound slightly absurd but let me defend myself. Studio Art deals with the production and development of things. While these results might be in some measure different when you compare English, Studio Art, and Computer Science, the direction of movement (from idea to production), is similar. While Computer Science, like Math, is more objective and English/Studio Art is more subjective, all three focus on the production of goods.
Restructuring departmental connections by methodology could lead to a different way of making connections between disciplines. But why are such methodological based connections important? In my opinion, the content connection between departments (the relationship between Studio Art and Art History) will always be obvious, and connections based on content will still remain. But, only focusing on those connections prevents us from developing interesting connections and methods, which is what the point of the liberal arts really is.
Currently the argument that our system is making is that content is king. While we make efforts at connecting disciplines, our fundamental way of thinking about them rests on the types of things they look at, not the way they look at them. I think that by breaking away from a system that makes connections based on content and moving towards one that uses methodologies, we as a college can start to build relationships across disciplines that were previously unimaginable.