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SNU Aims at `Consilience`

Posted July. 28, 2008 03:31,   


At Seoul National University, music professors and arts professors will give lectures at the engineering college and medical professors at the social science college, as the university takes a serious leap toward interdisciplinary consilience.

SNU is making such a change in its attempt to swallow the key topic of the academic circle -- consilience -- which is also a stepping stone to be selected for the WCU project (World Class University project) of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, which begins next year.

The university appointed chemistry professor Kim Yeong-sik as Asian history professor in 2001, and professor Mun Jung-yang with degrees in statistical computing as Korean history professor in 2005 for the purpose of interdisciplinary research, but this is the first time SNU establishes a converged department and allocates professors.

In a report on the progress of the WCU project, which each department of SNU handed in to the head office of the university, the engineering college proposed the establishment of four graduate-level courses, namely media art engineering (music+arts+engineering), nano-bio engineering (chemistry+materials engineering+mechanical engineering), energy and environment engineering (mechanical engineering+energy resource engineering+construction and environmental engineering) and fiscal engineering (mathematics+management+industrial engineering), so that the university can apply for Type 1 of the WCU program (establishment of courses in new fields).

Media art engineering is a mixed discipline where music and arts (including industrial design) is integrated into engineering. Computer graphics and electronic sounds created for the production of films or music are included in this discipline. The engineering college plans to develop its media art engineering course as a high-tech applied science course by interweaving it with the cultural contents industry.

Kang Tae-in, head of the engineering college, said, “Taking the Media Lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which integrated arts and engineering, as its model, (the engineering college) decided to employ four professors with music and arts backgrounds.”

Nano-biomedical engineering purports to develop new medical materials by studying into nano-technology. To this end, the engineering college is drafting detailed plans jointly with the natural science college and the medical college.

“Because the interdisciplinary course we are pursuing is a core field of study, the engineering college will continue to proceed with the plan irrelevant to the result of WCU selection by the Education Ministry,” said Kang.

The natural science college also reported its plans to establish three integrated courses, which are properties of materials (material engineering+solid state physics), fiscal mathematics (mathematics+management) and nano-bioscience (physics+chemistry+biology). Fiscal mathematics is a field of fiscal engineering utilized by investment banks when developing various instruments, such as funds. Demand for fiscal mathematics is expected to expand when the Financial Services Act is enforced next year.

Oh Se-jeong, head of the natural science college, said, “(The natural science college) is considering to develop studies in properties of materials together with Tokyo University, an acknowledged university in this field of study, and to run fiscal mathematics under the authority of the dean of a graduate school after discussing it with the management college.”

The social science college, which has been relatively passive toward consilience, is also attempting to make changes as it pushes for the establishment of courses in cognitive neuroscience (psychology+biomedical science+medical science) and international organization/human security research.

In particular, it plans to employ one professor from the biomedical science department and two professors each from neuroscience and bioscience fields in the medical college. Soon, medical professors will be giving lectures at the social science college.

Since this is the first time SNU pushes for consilience, it does face difficulties. Because the application categories for the WCU program framed by the Education Ministry are concentrated in the natural science and engineering fields, the management college and the humanities college did not even apply for Type 1 of the program where the biggest budget is allocated.

Another impediment is that professors avoid transferring to other colleges because of selfishness in colleges. “Because of selfishness among colleges, universities are unable to establish consilience courses on their own, and that is why the government is intervening artificially by allocating budget,” explained director Park Ju-ho of the Academic Research Support Bureau of the Education Ministry.

Regarding this, some SNU professors are opposing, saying, “It is a wrong idea to develop sciences with money. In particular, it is a typical example of flunkeyism that the ministry will give money to universities that invite foreign professors.”

SNU will collect proposals for consilience from each college until the end of the month and hand in its draft plan to the ministry by August 20 after making internal coordination.