CAN MAKERERE UNIVERSITY BECOME A CROSS-DISCIPLINE AND TRANS-DISCIPLINE UNIVERSITY FOR KNOWLEDGE RE-INTEGRATION?

By Oweyegha-Afunaduula

Center for Critical Thinking and Alternative Analysis (CCAA) Seeta, Kampala, Uganda.

Not long ago I wrote an article titled “Does Intellectual Capital Matter”? While it was an article of great public interest, I wanted to specifically target our universities, which were squeezing intellectualism out of their body politic, and stressing academicism and scholasticism.

My concern was that the universities were concentrating on expanding student numbers, with the approval of the Ministry of Education, and producing graduates at all levels of the education institution with diminishing capacity for intellectual inquiry, questioning, critical thinking.

When both intellectual and critical thinking enterprises of universities fall, even the capacity and quality of the academic enterprise also fall. The tendency is for the universities to concentrate on producing numbers rather than quality of graduates.

In the past, universities enhanced their relevance by so many of its teachers and learners engaging in intellectual discourses and clashes publicly and internally. This helped minds either to diverge or meet on issues of human concern, or else produce enough contradiction that would enable people to innovate new theories and suggestions for the way forward.

Unfortunately, universities seem to have relapsed into centres of stagnancy. Academics now just write for themselves and their students, without offering themselves for scrutiny outside their academia.

They assess each other, reward each other and grow in mental capabilities and careerism while falling far below standard in intellectual capacities. Academicism and scholasticism are, the exclusive preoccupation Makerere University and other Universities in Uganda.

Extracurricular activities, which used to make the university a more dynamic and connected entity internally and externally are less emphasized than in the past. Theory has outstripped practice as well. This is disadvantaging learners, especially in the employment markets, and excluding teachers from the wider marketplace of ideas.

We can blame the overemphasis on academic knowledge production, transmission and acquisition for career growth and development in small pockets of knowledge and practice called disciplines.

The knowledge culture of disciplines allows the creation of small pockets of knowledge in which knowledge workers specialize, or overspecialize, and regard themselves as knowledgeable.

Their products clog every institution of government and the private sector but they cannot perform as integrated units or integrate anything. They were not produced to do so. When politicians talk of integration they have no integration agents to help them actualize the idea.

Elsewhere outside Africa, universities are training for the 21st century workforce -integrated and dynamic to exploit the opportunities created by the cyberage, which requires greater freedom of thought, interaction and practice. The worldwide trend in education is thus re-emphasis of reintegration of knowledge, innovation and creativity.

It is recognized and accepted that it is no longer fashionable to fragment knowledge and knowledge production, confining knowledge workers and seekers in small knowledge cocoons (disciplines), with almost no interaction with others in different knowledge cocoons, who only interact casually with others outside their knowledge cocoons.

The process of de-emphasizing disciplines has been on especially since the very early 1970s, but universities, especially in Africa, have been conducting their knowledge work as if the process has not started. They have ignored it at the expense of their learners.

According to Manville, cited by Peters (1992), knowledge development is a professional responsibility putting people in touch with one another, linking minds. It is no longer a casual, personal process to earn personal credit, but is becoming more systematized, and the overall knowledge-building process will allow people to extend their personal networks fast and efficiently – outside cocoons of knowledge.

This, however, can only happen meaningfully if apart from liberalizing the economy without liberalizing politics, there is a parallel process of liberalizing of knowledge. To allow greater freedom and democratic practice of and among knowledge workers and their learners.

Liberalization of knowledge entails dissolving the rigid walls of knowledge cocoons to allow the emergence of new integrating and integrative cultures of knowledge, namely: interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity crossdisciplinarity and non-disciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity involves Integrating knowledge and methods from different disciplines using a real synthesis of approaches.

Crossdisciplinarity involves viewing one discipline from the perspective of another.  Transdisciplinarity involves creating a unity of intellectual frameworks beyond one discipline. Nondisciplinarity is a knowledge discourse, which does not evoke or involve recourse to disciplines of knowledge.

We can as well refer to nondisciplinarity as the most advanced extradsciplinary knowledge integration culture in the sense that it is free from disciplinary limitations. Cultures and traditions throughout the world remain essentially nondisciplinary, but they are being polluted by products of disciplinary knowledge and their practices.

The question is: Can Makerere University, and other newer universities, which imitated its knowledge practices, open up to the new cultures of knowledge? The answer is “Yes” they can. The challenge is that in virtually all the universities there is currently no cadre of scholars to sow the mustard seed of knowledge reintegration in the 21st century. Yet this is happening in other great universities of the World.

In Africa South of the Sahara only Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) took serious note of the process of reintegration of knowledge sweeping the globe and started to de-emphasize imprisonment of scholars in disciplines. It has a Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies.

However, it has yet to open up to the other integrative cultures of knowledge. Makerere university more or less rejected interdisciplinary knowledge production and research in the early millennium, preferring to re-entrench disciplinary knowledge production and research even more than was the case in the 20th Century.

All its academic and administrative leaders appear insensitive to the current knowledge re-integration wave sweeping the globe.  However, even if they were they would be limited by the rigid disciplinary structure and function of the university.

Thus we talk of tribes in human society, especially in Africa, but there are also academic tribes in universities. We talk of ethnocentrisms in human society, but there are also ethnocentrisms in the academic world. However, in the history of knowledge, local knowledge everywhere on the globe was one and integrated.

It still is, with just dimensions as many as those of the human brain. Also, the knowledge of ancient philosophers in many human societies was similarly shaped as one and integrated. It aimed at producing generations of people with integrated minds. However, as time went on, creation of knowledge empires (academic empires) led to the emergence of both broad categories of knowledge (Natural Science, Arts or Humanities and Social Science, which constituted one science with just three dimensions -Natural science, Humanities or Arts and Social Science).

Within each category of knowledge, numerous disciplines with rigid walls around each of them, were created and continue to be created. Within each discipline, knowledge is produced, transmitted and acquired unlinked to other knowledges. Experts in each discipline arise linked by ideas within each discipline but not ideas in other disciplines.

Creation of academic tribes, forever intensifying narrow academic specializations, explains the rising multiple disciplines (multidisciplinarity), which does not challenge disciplinarity, but only reduces the distance between them, without allowing interaction and integration. Even when scholars write joint books or reports, they will write separate chapters and separate conclusions.

They may not even interact during the writing of the book, leaving the editor to do the rest of the work. Even if people from different disciplines work together, they do not influence each other in any significant way.

This brought a lot of credit to the institution that employed such knowledge workers and a lot of esteem to them. It still does in the institution, which is resisting change in the 21st century. Multidisciplinarity does not integrate academia.

Multidisciplinarity may have been useful in the past, particularly in the 20th Century university, when employability of disciplinarily-produced graduates was assured. However, today it is counterproductive in a century of new knowledge production in new knowledge cultures of interdisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity and nondisciplinarity.

Disciplinarily produced graduates may still be employed in and outside universities but their fortunes are falling meteorically in the labour market. Unfortunately, education designers and managers at the national levels, especially in Africa, continue designing and managing curricula the same way as was the case in the 20th Century. That is designing and managing education backwards, yet the cyberage, which has taken us by storm, requires that we change quickly.

I must stress. There is a new marketplace of ideas unknown to scholars imprisoned in disciplinary cocoons of knowledge and practice. That is imposed ignorance, which nonetheless we boast of and continue to glorify and reward highly. If there are some scholars that would like to be part of the wave of knowledge reintegration, they are not free to do so because they are imprisoned in the disciplines, where they must pursue their careerism.

We can say with confidence that disciplines are not only prisons, but they simultaneously violate the freedoms and democratic rights of the knowledge workers and learners. They cannot easily think outside the box or use ideas created outside the box, create and innovate beyond the individual free of manipulation by higher order authorities.

It is true it can be a challenge to evaluate work outside the boundaries of disciplines within the academia. Such work does not easily fit into the models within which academics have traditionally been promoted. Indeed, the quality of the work is not trusted by the people prepared disciplinarily.

The critical thing is to develop working relationships between knowledge workers in different disciplines. Different disciplines have different practices and to understand the practices of different disciplines can be painstaking. One may not even develop interest in the practices of other knowledge workers in the other disciplines after being trained for decades to do things differently.

However, if trust and confidence can be molded between the knowledge workers of different disciplines and overlapping motivations emerge, the knowledge workers can get interested, become immensely engaged and happy working, thinking, reasoning, writing and allowing their minds to meet across disciplinary cleavage lines.

If things go well between the knowledge workers, they can include all their students in the class as co-learners, co-designers, co-innovators, co-researchers and co-evaluators of the learning enterprise.

Every knowledge worker, knowledge leader and knowledge manager should know that there is a quest to improve the learning experience and produce more wholesome learners who can cope with a century of accelerating changes ahead; who value holistic approach to education and life; and who can venture into the market place of ideas without fear or favour.

We have no alternative but to go forward in the 21st century. We have to prepare students or learners for the 21st century workforce, which is distancing itself from the 20th century that was artificially disciplinary in knowledge production, transmission and acquisition.

Interdisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity and non-disciplinarity collectively constitute the new team science, which is making knowledge workers, students and practitioners elsewhere fit in the cyberage dominated by nondisciplinary teamwork practice. We can accordingly classify science into four categories: interdisciplinary science, crossdisciplinary science, transdisciplinary science and nondisciplinary science.

We can also talk of these sciences as “the knowledge reintegration sciences” of the 21st Century and beyond. As such, everyone fits in quest for reintegration locally, nationally, regionally and globally. ,It is a new science literacy for integration to produce a new cadre of graduates with integrated minds that can meaningfully contribute to integration of the world at all levels.

Reintegration of knowledge improves the quality of graduates and their employability and creates a new cadre of knowledge workers who are not arrogant and will not fear to work in teams. It values local knowledge of the indigenous people. Meaningful collaborative teamwork for a more holistic, interconnected world in which everyone and everything matters is the ultimate goal of education using these sciences, not as aliens but integral to it.

Besides, if universities embrace knowledge reintegration, they will not fall prey to adroit politicians who want to disconnect the sciences (Humanities or Arts, Social Science and Natural Science). They will resist being misled to create unnecessary divisions between and within the academia by people who want to gain politically from the divisions.

The new knowledge workers must work to reunite the sciences as one science by first embracing reintegration of knowledge as an imperative for the 21st Century. However, institutions must now restructure and redesign themselves for reintegration.

Only this way shall we begin to produce graduates that can serve humanity in various capacities for integration in all spheres of human life – economic, political, social, ecological, environmental, etc. – towards a more holistic world.

Later will be too late. Future generations will blame us for having been so ignorant as to value disconnection of knowledge and practice. We must look back to the future, which is already here.

Can Makerere University simultaneously open up to and restructure itself for interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, transdisciplinary and nondisciplinary education and research even if it failed to open up to interdisciplinary education and research in the early millennium? I think and believe it can if its knowledge workers and academic and administrative leaders realize that they are preventing the university from being a 21st Century university.

Interdisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity and nondisciplinarity can coexist in the university and cross fertilize each other in an academic environment liberated for knowledge re-integration.

Behind every problem is the problem of leadership. The problem here is that the new cultures of knowledge re-integration is sweeping the world but knowledge workers and academic leaders have been resisting it since the early millennium in the fashion of “The Devil You Know is Better Than the Angel You Don’t Know”.

Interdisciplinarity (or interdisciplinary science)

“Interdisciplinary teaching and learning” is exactly what it sounds like: students combine learning from multiple disciplines to come up with new ways to think about issues and solve problems. Teachers looking to create these opportunities for students might ask, what is an interdisciplinary approach? Compared to traditional approaches, an interdisciplinary approach expands what students learn by allowing them to tackle problems that don’t fit neatly into one subject.

It also changes how students learn by asking them to synthesize multiple perspectives, instead of taking what they’re told by a teacher at face value. In the public realm graduates interdisciplinarity produced can discuss different issues from different angles without disciplinary limitations.

They can also write and intellectualize on issues that do not respect disciplinary orientations and walls. This way they are superior to their rigidly disciplinary colleagues. We must not postpone interdisciplinary capacity building in our universities if we are to be part of the international education system.

Since the current Makerere University scholars and academic leaders were, at the beginning of the new millennium, introduced to interdisciplinarity, and the University Council went ahead to approve a policy for interdisciplinary education and research without putting it at per with disciplinarity in terms of career development, preferring disciplinary career development, it should not be so difficult to rethink the University’s collective attitude towards interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

It would be a matter of rethinking the Akiiki Mujaju academic policy of the early millennium, which devalued interdisciplinary education and research, casting them as inferior to disciplinary education and research.

It is, however, probably true that the vast majority of scholars have not heard of crossdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity and nondisciplinarity because the strong disciplinary structure and function of the university occluded them from the university’s knowledge culture.

Yet they, with interdisciplinarity, are the teaching and learning knowledge cultures of the 21st Century and promise to be so beyond the century because, as I said, we are in the cyberage which has no respect for the disciplines and their rigid walls.

Let me briefly introduce these other cultures of knowledge production, acquisition and transfer.

Transdisciplinarity (or transdisciplinary science)

Transdisciplinarity involves creating a unity of intellectual frameworks beyond one discipline. However, Ttransdisciplinarity is generally defined by the inclusion of non-academic stakeholders in the process of knowledge production. It is a promising science, but its ability to efficiently address the world’s most pressing issues still requires improvement.

As knowledge reintegration guru, J. Thompson Klein, wrote in her 2015 paper “Reprint of “Discourses of transdisciplinarity: Looking back to the future”, citing Jean Piaget and E. Jantsch (1972), “The three discourses of transdisciplinarity are transcendence, problem solving and transgression.

In short, while the transcendence discourse seeks to produce a general theory of science and systems, the problem-solving discourse puts strong emphasis on social purpose. The third discourse, entitled transgression, serves the rhetoric of critiquing and reformulating the status quo imposed by dominant assumptions in scientific generation”.

Klein explains that the discourse of transcendence has included holistic approaches aimed at reorganizing the structure of knowledge towards unity (i.e., a universal scientific explanation). Some examples include systems theory, policy sciences, philosophy, and unification theories in physics.

The discourse of problem solving takes a pragmatic approach to address social missions by integrating knowledge and skills from all disciplines in large-scale projects and processes. Coproduction of knowledge with stakeholders in society is an obvious tenet in this discourse with the aim of solving complex problems that originate in society.

Accordingly, an education model based on feedback between academic and non-academic system designers and innovators that leads to new categories of methods and tools forms the vision of transdisciplinarity. Transgression, the third discourse, as Klein explains, “moves beyond instrumental integration” as it concentrates on scientific and systems uncertainties and high decision stakes.

By renouncing of disciplinary truth claims, this discourse is related with the concept of knowledge production in which a “new social distribution of knowledge” occurs due to contributions from wider range of organizations and stakeholders in producing “socially robust knowledge”.

This approach transgresses the expert/lay dichotomy and therefore leads to new partnerships between academe and society. Just as I suggested for interdisciplinarity, we must not postpone transdisciplinary capacity building to complement the strongly disciplinary academic culture.

Crossdisciplinarity (or crossdisciplinary science)

Crossdisciplinarity may be looked at as a research attitude exemplified by a tendency to frame research strategies and insights through the lens of a single academic attitude or domain, but tempered by an openness to complementary strategies and insights from other perspectives.

The benefits of cross-disciplinary teaching, learning and research are widely acknowledged. Crossdisciplinary science links teaching, learning and research with innovation, creative problem-solving, new meanings and the ability to advance knowledge with intellectual breakthroughs.

The benefits of cross-disciplinary research come from being attentive to ideas and processes developed in diverse knowledge and practice fields in an endeavour to find new meaning using fresh perspectives. It is very helpful in tackling what are called wicked problems with both scientific and societal significance. There is need to build capacity for cross disciplinarity.

Nondisciplinarity (or nondisciplinary science)

Nondisciplinarity is knowledge discourse, which does not evoke or involve recourse to disciplines of knowledge. We can as well refer to it as the most advanced extradsciplinary knowledge integration culture in the sense that it is free from disciplinary limitations. Cultures and traditions throughout the world remained nondisciplinary.

They still do. Indigenous knowledge is thus nondisciplinary. Even during the times of the great ancient thinkers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, knowledge production was nondisciplinary because until Aristotle introduced them disciplines did not exist.

With the creation of disciplinary knowledge production entities in the academia nondisciplinarity was occluded. If one was nondisciplinary, one did not belong to the world of knowledge.

Fortunately, in the evolving knowledge society, nondisciplinarity is repenetrating the world of knowledge with many networks, which have no respect for disciplines, being created between society, government, industry and academia.

Environment is better studied and conserved non-disciplinarily especially because it is a social and cultural issue, and in the past, it was conserved and managed socially and culturally. The social media are a modern example on nondisciplinarity on the move again.

For God and My Country.

The Writer Is a Ugandan Scientist And Environmentalist

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