One of the great joys of working on the NYU Abu Dhabi project has been not only the chance to work with superb colleagues (who ever heard of actually looking forward to weekly two-hour long university committee meetings?), but also the chance to think outside of the disciplinary and institutional boxes into which we all find ourselves confined more often than not. Sometimes the boxes are created by strange NYU traditions or inter-school rivalries: undergraduate creative writing on the Square, for example, is limited to fiction, poetry, and occasionally creative non-fiction. Journalistic writing? That belongs to the Journalism department. Screenwriting or playwriting? Those belong to Tisch. It won’t be that way at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Sometimes, however, the boxes are the result of settled disciplinary scholarly and pedagogical practice. NYUAD has given my colleagues and me the opportunity to rethink our disciplinary approaches and to emphasize both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches. So the NYUAD literature major has no equivalent at NYUNY: reflecting the fact that NYUAD will be a U.S. liberal college offering instruction in English but located in Abu Dhabi, our literature major is a program that might be described as “world literature in English or English translation, with an Anglophone emphasis.” The NYUAD history major is organized not around national traditions but rather around oceans, highlighting international and transnational political, social, economic, and cultural exchanges. Its philosophy major emphasizes the history of philosophy — and the philosophy of the Arabic and Islamic worlds — far more than its counterpart in the Square.

The scientists have rethought their curriculum as well. They’ve created a sequence of courses called “Foundations of Science” that acknowledges “the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of modern scientific research” and breaks down the traditional boundaries among introductory courses. Here’s how they describe it: “Instead of the traditional series of discipline-specific introductory courses, Foundations integrates basic concepts from Biology, Brain and Cognitive Science, Chemistry Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics in a demanding-three semester sequence.”

The arts curriculum is a work-in-progress, but it seems likely that it well provide opportunities for students to integrate theory and practice. A student majoring in art, for example, might well study both art history and studio art. We’ll see how it develops.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the NYUAD’s curriculum, you can download a PDF entitled Preview of Academic Programs, 2010-11.

I’m very interested in rethinking various aspects of pedagogical practice, not only in colleges and universities, but also in secondary schools. Too often, I think, our schools stifle creativity and create a culture in which intellectual work comes to seem like drudgery.

A well-known argument along these lines has been offered by Sir Ken Richardson. Take a look at this brief talk, given four years ago, at one of the TED conferences. I like, in particular, the anecdote with which Sir Ken concludes his talk.