A Universal University:
Today's world is more connected than anytime in history. New (and very lucrative) interdisciplinary fields such as data science, bioinformatics, and computer-aided design have emerged, demanding skills from a variety of classical academic disciplines. Even creation of music, movies, and video games demand a wildly diverse range of skills, from music composition and performance to illustration and video production. Yet today's universities cling to a hyperspecialized mode of “one-discipline” education which more resembles an assembly line than anything which actually prepares students for the reality of today's society. Students who do acquire a broader education often find themselves fighting established institutions to do so - sometimes by incurring delays because they are interested in subjects both in and outside of their majors, sometimes by being forced to give up a number of talents which their schools consider “auxiliary”. This attitude has already resulted in an incalculable loss of potential both for the individual students and for humanity as a whole.
While the greatest challenges of the 21st century - things like curing cancer and creating a machine with human-level intelligence - lie very clearly across multiple disciplines of study, today's universities have failed society by limiting students' scope and dreams. No university will give a student or faculty member credit for going after such a problem, even though such problems are where the effort is needed most. Today's schools, from nursery all the way to the Ph. D. level, teach students to tackle easy problems with a single quick, easy, and incremental solution. There is no element of challenge, and failure is punished rather than seen as an opportunity for growth. As a result, students become afraid to fail, afraid to dream big, and finally afraid to dream at all.
We believe that education is a tool, to be wielded by the student in service to the student's own goals. We should not tell students what they can and can't do. We should not force students to work toward our goals, when working toward their goals will yield such rich dividends for society and for their personal growth. We should not be training students to ask “what if I fail?”, but “what if I succeed?” And we should exercise creativity and leadership at least as much as any single skill.
And that is why we're building a very different kind of university:
- It's about the student: The entire curriculum starts with your goals. The coursework is oriented around projects - which you choose - that will get you closer to these goals. If you need materials, resources, or other people to pursue your projects, we'll help you. Dream big! We're here to support you and help you learn what you need to know to have a huge impact.
- You can change the world: You might not cure cancer in four years, and we won't hold that against you (then again, some students will change the world even before they graduate!) But if you start down the road in four years, you might cure it in ten, or twenty, or fifty. What we will do is turn your dream into a vision and give you the skills you need to follow that vision.
- You can come back: As long as there's space, alumni can sit in on any class that they want for free. So if you're curing cancer and realized that you need to brush up on immunotherapy, no problem! At other schools, you'd need to pay a large sum and possibly enroll in a new degree program to do this.
- Your projects lead the way: You don't have a “major” - which is good, because the skills you'll need to complete your project are going to lie across more than one discipline. But you're going to be getting a very rigorous education anyway, because you can't, say, design a bridge without learning a lot of engineering (and mathematics, and architecture, and policy…) Actually, we're pretty sure that you're going to be more well-versed in at least one subject than someone who had majored in it at another school, because you've used it from the beginning and have an intuitive understanding that other students won't.
- Your degree will be worth a lot (and your projects will be worth even more): With each project that succeeds, the reputation of the institution increases dramatically. If one student starts a multinational business or discovers a groundbreaking new idea out of college, that might be a fluke. But when thousands from the same school are changing the world, the degree acquires a level of value far beyond that of a degree elsewhere. Even though student success will propel the degree to an elite status, your projects are going to be even more impressive to employers and investors.
- Your collaborators are inspiring: You want to change the world, and so do they, so your worldviews are very likely to be compatible. Even though there are no majors, you will be seeing the same faces in many of your courses, because those people will be working on similar ideas to yours. Why not strike up a conversation with them and see where it leads you?
- Assembling the dream team (that's where): Say that you want to build a car that runs on water, and so does another student. Maybe someone else is designing a more efficient fuel injector, or an alternative source of portable energy. Maybe you're not all taking the same courses all at once. But that's ok, because we're going to put you all in touch and let sparks fly. This is all happening at school, mind you.
- We train leadership and creativity: You're going to naturally acquire leadership ability when working toward your goals and recruiting supporters to your cause. But we'll also provide optional leadership training as one of the many offerings you can pick up while working on your projects. Creativity training will also be offered, including one interdisciplinary course where you can sample a different lecture from a different subject area each day to search for new and interesting ideas.
- The curriculum is incredibly flexible, even in the core: Instead of monolithic “semesters”, courses are comprised of a series of “topic units”. For instance, you don't “take calculus” so much as learn about derivatives, integrals, optimization, and mathematical series in sequence. “Branch-out points” are scattered throughout the curriculum (see our sample syllabi): if you want to jump into a bit of physics after learning integrals, you can follow that lesson up with a lesson on torque and come back to series later. This can be done at any point during the year; there are no “semesters”. And if you don't want to sit for lectures on a topic, you can also satisfy most topic units by examination, original research, industry experience, or part of your project.
When all is said and done, we're going to build an elite university simply by supporting our students to a degree never before witnessed in academia. Students will emerge from our program with significant real world achievements and the confidence and expertise that come from building them.
The university will feature ample natural lighting and the main campus will be located in a suburban area with access to hiking trails as well as reasonable mass-transit connectivity to a city. The campus will feature student-created works of art, music, and literature, from which a museum will eventually be built.
We invite you to explore our ideas further and help us turn this vision into a reality.