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Challenges for futures studies in the university.

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.

I myself have been fortunate to still find ways to keep teaching some futures studies courses over the years--two within political science (Global Planning and the Future, and Technological Policy and the Future), as well as a senior seminar in behavioral science (a program that I coordinated for many years). This BEH course must be integrative across the social-behavioral sciences on some theme selected by the professor teaching it. I have focused on different topics, but in recent years on futures and evolution as a theme.

My advice for a faculty member who wants to create and teach a futures studies course is to work within your own department. Start with an elective "special topics" course, and then get it approved by your department and via the university curriculum process. If a whole program in futures studies is not viable, at least try to create one or two futures studies elective courses within your own department.

If--a big if--you can find other related futures studies core courses, or courses on specialized topics related to the future, then you might be able to create a futures studies undergraduate major or minor, or even an MA program, on your university campus. You will need to get other interested faculty from different departments willing to work with you in this effort.

The biggest problem for futures studies within universities is that the major organization and power rests with departments representing different disciplines. Interdisciplinary programs and institutes are thus vulnerable if budget cutbacks occur, or if a donor ceases to support such efforts, or if the faculty member who was the driving force leaves, retires, or otherwise is no longer available.

Nonetheless, many issues today require teams of people with expertise in different disciplines to work together to come up with more holistic, systems solutions to problems. So that is the ongoing challenge, which makes futures studies more relevant than ever, but also more difficult to promote within the traditional structures of most universities today.

Linda Groff is director of Global Options and Evolutionary Futures Consulting ( She is emeritus professor of political science and futures studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Her e-mail is
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Title Annotation:Foresight Education Programs and Courses
Author:Groff, Linda
Publication:The Futurist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2014
Previous Article:Collaborative futures education.
Next Article:Foresight education: when students meet the future(s).

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