GD: Regarding the people: this conference is open to the public. Are you expecting a Penn-dominated audience or will there be people beyond Penn?
KB: I really like experiments, and I never know who’s going to show up. Last year, for example, I ran a series of films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at International House Philadelphia, and there was a completely diverse audience there — local West Philadelphians, peace activists, students, faculty members, veterans, and film buffs. This mixed audience allowed for good conversation after the film. I hope we get that kind of diversity again.
I believe the university can have porous boundaries, and I’m interested in this porous-ness. There are some very specialized things that we do in some classrooms and individual research venues — and I don’t think all of those things have to be accessible to everybody — often, they wouldn’t work if they were. But this conversation needs participants from inside and outside the university. We’re posing questions about how to foster creative thinking and research in the contemporary moment — and how to think about what universities are, what they can be, and what we don’t want them to be — and this question matters for the evolution of our society. Whether or not you’re in the university yourself, you live in a world that is impacted by how we train people in higher education.
GD: How much of Penn will be represented in the panel speakers themselves?
KB: Penn has some very unique features. We attract creative people because our academic priorities are experimental at the core, and we have a great geographical advantage over many of our peer schools. President Gutmann’s decision to highlight the integration of knowledge as top priority emerged in part from the unusual geographic proximity of our different schools. I think it’s the only campus in the nation where you can walk among all the different schools really easily — and this physical fact fosters collaboration. People here tend to generally be very collegial and open to collaboration. We have, for example, very interesting things going on right now between the Fine Arts Department and the School of Engineering with the Digital Media Design program; or among History of Art, Philosophy, Cinema Studies, Psychology, and Neuroscience through the Visual Studies program.
But we also wanted to include different perspectives in the conference, so I’m bringing in lots of people from outside Penn too. I hope we can really learn from each other and share best practices. I hope that there will be a follow-up on the ideas that are sparked and the relationships that begin at the conference and the dinners we have afterwards.
Most of all, I would love it for our students to be really vocal in the question-and-answer period. I know our students have a lot of ideas about what they hope to get out of their education and that they see as possibilities that faculty members don’t necessarily see. I read The Daily Pennsylvanian frequently and there are a lot of articles about people wanting more creativity in the classroom, more agency, different styles of learning. It’s a moment of transformation, and we have to think together about both what we need to ditch and what from the traditional classroom we want to maintain.
GD: I’m thinking about breaking down what "interdisciplinary collaboration" means and the rhetoric of "Integrated Knowledge University" in the name of the HAIKU conference. Why is interdisciplinarity important (when digging deep in one discipline might be more straightforward)? And what are the consequences, especially in the university setting?
KB: Well first, I really believe in disciplines! They are really important to the mission of the research university. Specialized, disciplinary knowledge is a way of training oneself in rigorous thinking. It allows us to see the complexities of a problem and gives us time to really immerse ourselves in these complexities. This is a very important part of what higher education offers, and I wouldn’t want to do away with that.
The strongest models of interdisciplinarity never do away with the value of specialized knowledge, although they might end up asking questions that ultimately change what we thought we knew. In this conference, you’ll see there are specialists in particular panels. Howard Gardner from the Harvard Graduate School of Education is one of our speakers, and one of his major contributions to education at all levels is his theory of multiple intelligences. Through data-intensive research, he really saw that humans have different types of intelligence and the brain can work in very different ways. There’s musical intelligence, verbal intelligence, or bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, for example. He’s interested in how we approach education in a way that takes into account these multiple modes of intelligence, which are always differently arranged in each person. For me, the conference is about trying to be open to human intelligence in its fullest sense, and to imagine the university as an environment that fosters and celebrates this richness of being, and encourages it as a lifelong enterprise.