Diversity breeds creativity

Mr. Negroponte wrote a simple and elegant introduction to the Technology Review’s 10 Emerging Technologies issue this month, touting the benefits of interdisciplinary research, youth and creativity.

Even though it’s a simple reiteration of the Media Lab party line, the article sent my mind off in a thousand directions. As an academic in an interdisciplinary institution, I can firmly say that while many groups around MIT are moving in this direction, the world is still far from being accepting of breadth as an education style.

Tenure, an infrastructure most people think is as old as the university, is actually quite young institution in America. Based on the German concept of lehrfreiheit, or freedom to teach, tenure also has the effect of locking in to an age heirarchy that undermines young thinkers. While the ideals are good (i.e., disconnecting professors’ ideas from their employment), the resulting system lacks the adaptability and creativity necessary to bridge new ground.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we fire all tenured professors and replace them with younger, less experienced researchers. But when new professors spend their time appealing to the venerable members of their program, they lose their potential to break new ground through alternative methods and perspectives.

Or maybe I’m just worried about getting tenure someday.

Tech Review: Creating a Culture of Ideas

Pitt: A history of Tenure

2 thoughts on “Diversity breeds creativity

  1. As far as I’m aware the phyisicist Jams Clark Maxwell (circa 1800’s) was at a university where they had 2 proferssors of physics and 5 divinity proffersors. The university decided they had to cut a profferors job to save money and so decided to fire one of the physics prof’s.

    They gave them the challange to produce some orriginal reasearch and the one that produced the best would keep their joob. Maxwell produced a little booklet outlining the Maxwell equations wich define (and still form a good therotical frame work) for the propogation of electromagmnetic fields and waves.

    It seems that a little bit of a challange in maxwells case produced a good peice of work.

  2. Yes, tenure also has the negative association of removing all professional pressure. As far as I know, Noam Chomsky has not been first author on a linguistics-related paper since 1996 (since he ostensibly became obessed with politics). Yet he still holds the titles “Professor of Linguistics
    Linguistic Theory, Syntax, Semantics, Philosophy of Language” at MIT.

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