Russell W. Peterson
The principal charge of a university is to prepare people for a life of leadership. But there are at least two distinct kinds of "leadership." One refers to "leading" groups of people, and the other, to "showing the way" by expansion of human knowledge through research.
In terms of the latter--research--universities have clearly led the way. As knowledge exploded, they developed ever narrower fields of specialization. This approach has been highly successful in advancing the frontiers of knowledge, and it will no doubt continue to prosper. Recently, our growing need to research the interconnections of people, things, and ideas has also led to an increasing awareness of the inadequacies of training in narrow disciplines. One result has been the proliferation of interdisciplinary research programs that pool the knowledge of specialists from several disciplines. These have been remarkably productive despite the intellectual prejudices that often limit the horizons of specialists, but they are still suboptimal in lacking the services of true generalists who can operate effectively at the interface of several disciplines and whose thinking benefits from a symbiosis among them.
The other kind of leadership--the leadership of people and of institutions--today calls for the broadest of training, not only for understanding the complex world we live in, but also for integrating the increasingly narrow slices of knowledge developed by the disciplines and for making intelligent choices among the alternatives they seem to suggest. My lifetime careers in education, research, industrial management, politics, state and federal government, citizen action, and world conservation and development have provided me, I like to believe, with on-the-job training as a "professional" generalist. During this time I have observed firsthand