Adelberg: The Call to Business
Will the new West End be an ecosystem or a bubble?
As Dartmouth’s identity stands at the crossroads between liberal arts college and research university, College President Phil Hanlon’s Call to Lead campaign launches many ambitious initiatives that promise to improve Dartmouth’s mixed model. The campaign’s cornerstone proposal to turn the West End of campus into a hub for engineering, computer science, business and design radically rethinks this mixed model and pushes Dartmouth into uncharted territory. While integrating these connected fields into one community could foster interdisciplinary thinking and a liberal arts approach to business-oriented pursuits, the proposal could also geographically, culturally and academically divorce the traditional humanities and social sciences from their modern counterparts. There are tremendous potential academic and social benefits associated with this new vision for the West End, but if Dartmouth fails to prevent its new ecosystem from becoming an inward-looking bubble, the College will face an identity crisis and watch its mixed model collapse into division.
The West End proposal promises to improve educational opportunities in these fields by encouring a culture of interdisciplinary learning. Students reap massive benefits when they ignore the artificial barriers between areas of knowledge: interdisciplinary learning equips students to think critically, synthesize information, perform better research and connect their education to meaningful, real-world problems. Placing computer science, engineering and business in the same innovation hub weakens these walls by making it more accessible for engineers to take that first class in computer science and wander outside of their comfort zones. The increased geographic continuity of these departments would also increase the overlap of their corresponding social networks, increasing the likelihood that economics majors learn the engineering laws underlying the law of diminishing marginal returns. The liberal arts principle of interdisciplinary learning may be old news to the humanities and social sciences, but its application to computer science, engineering, business and design would be revolutionary.
In a 21st century era where so many real-world problems lie at the intersection of computer science, engineering, business and design, this interdisciplinary liberal arts approach to business could not come at a better time. Workers that thrived in the industrial economy of yesterday struggle to get by in the information economy of today — business leaders that could retool their engineering know-how to fuel the digital growth sectors of today would alleviate social pressures and drive the next wave of economic growth. Civil engineers racing against climate change to find tomorrow’s water supply need every bit of business know-how they can get if they hope to scale up new technologies to overcome international water scarcity and its potential national security implications. Artificial intelligence research is not just a software problem, it is a hardware problem — computer scientists need strong engineering backgrounds if they hope to design the computational titans of the future. The list of modern-day interdisciplinary problems stretches on and on: the new West End could produce the wave of innovators this nation so desperately needs to meet these challenges.
However, with its own culture, social networks and interdisciplinary ties, the new West End could easily wall out the humanities and social sciences, disincentivize exploring these topics and exacerbate existing student body divides. In the new West End collaboration hub, it would be much easier for computer scientists interested in artificial intelligence to explore engineering than to explore philosophy — nonetheless, these innovators would lose intellectual and practical opportunities by forgoing the chance to construct a coherent philosophy of mind. The interdisciplinary social networking encouraged by the new West End could disseminate knowledge and connect students within the collaboration hub, but would reduce flows of knowledge and students in and out of the hub; left separate, the liberal arts and the business-oriented West End could develop divergent cultures. Given how much Dartmouth’s culture suffers when only one discipline forms a separate culture — look at how “snake”-like economics majors are perceived — imagine how ugly a divide between the “practical” disciplines and the liberal arts would be. It would be the end of the Dartmouth mixed model.
This does not have to be the end to Dartmouth’s trademark mix of liberal arts pedagogy and research university opportunities: the administration can alleviate these strains to Dartmouth’s identity by keeping the West End open to all. Dartmouth’s culture is one of exploration — the College can preserve this ethos in the face of change by expanding distributive requirements, building interdisciplinary components into individual majors, lowering the difficulty of entry-level classes or increasing the number of Non-Recording Options. The West End expansion is an unparalleled opportunity, but also an existential threat to the Dartmouth mixed model that alumni cherish — and as alumni contributions determine the course of this expansion, this call to business demands a responsible expansion that creates opportunity without destroying the culture shared by this community.