Magazine article The Futurist

Challenges for Futures Studies in the University

Magazine article The Futurist

Challenges for Futures Studies in the University

Article excerpt

Futures studies has had difficulty establishing a firm foothold in universities around the world, largely because we still organize our universities based on the old Newtonian worldview of dividing reality into a bunch of separate parts. Different university disciplines and departments are where the hiring is done, and their focus is on self-preservation and credentialing.

Futures studies, on the other hand, is inherently big picture, interdisciplinary, and systems-oriented. It focuses not only on where trends are taking us, but also on designing more preferable alternative futures--another focus that traditional academia often ignores. The result is that futures studies does not easily fit within the framework of our traditional university structures.

Futures studies usually enters a university curriculum because some individual professor--in any given discipline or department--discovers the field, finds it fascinating, and decides to create a course with a futures focus, usually within his or her department. Such courses have popped up in almost every different discipline and school within a university, including not just the social sciences (political science, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and economics), but also the humanities, education, business and management, and even the natural sciences.

Thus, there is no inherent home where futures studies always or usually fits within a university.

The two top U.S. futures studies programs now, which have survived for a number of years, are the University of Houston at Clear Lake, which later had to move to a Technology School within the university to survive, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa's futures concentration within the Political Science Department. In both cases, these programs were the result of dedicated professors--Oliver Markley, Peter Bishop, and Andy Hines at the University of Houston and Jim Dator at the University of Hawaii.

At California State University, Dominguez Hills, in Carson, California, I brought together faculty in the 1970s from all different schools on campus to propose an MA in Futures Studies, which was approved and put on the master plan for the university. Later, the plan had to be abandoned when the university decided to convert from a quarter to a semester system, and some of the core courses required for the MA program were dropped from their curriculum. …

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