Working Paper 95
Setting off the Dominoes: A Theory of Change for Scaled Interdisciplinarity at a Joint Venture Liberal Arts and Sciences University in China
Published July 2023

Despite a key feature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and a core strength of liberal arts and sciences education, interdisciplinarity is also a noisy buzzword which does not always make sense from an operational point of view. Traditional interdisciplinary fields take it for granted like fish in the water while, somewhere else, people keep a distance with questions. Promoting interdisciplinarity faces additional boundary challenges due to strong gravitational forces that are national, historical, and increasingly from between college and workplace. For a higher education institution whose vision for robust interdisciplinarity is rooted across these boundaries, it is not enough to set up a curriculum, hoping that the train of interdisciplinarity will roar on once and for all. In reality, it may take a higher magnitude of interdisciplinarity and constant enabling mechanisms to balance out certain gravitational forces, such as the pro-STEM and pro-exam tendencies in Chinese higher education. This study surveyed the inaugural undergraduate class and faculty of an emerging Duke Kunshan University (DKU) in China to propose a theory of change for scaled interdisciplinarity. The resulting theory of change elaborates on an actionable definition of interdisciplinarity using a vocabulary common to college and workplace, a mobility lens for measuring and leveraging different and especially higher magnitudes of interdisciplinarity, and a linchpin mechanism for energizing this mobility so that interdisciplinarity is more entwined with other institutional facets of teaching, learning, and research.