David K. Scott was Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1993-2001.
This is an archive of the Chancellor's Web site during his tenure.

UMass Office of the Chancellor

Creating Integrative Universities for the Twenty-First Century

Susan M. Awbrey, David K. Scott

Forces for Change in Academe: Societal, Philosophical, Institutional

At this historic moment of millennial change we are witnessing something more profound than a mere change of age. We are seeing a worldview, born of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and enduring for four hundred years, begin to transform as it increasingly fails to offer guidance for a turbulent, complex world. Since the Renaissance the view that thought and analysis are synonymous has captivated the Western mind. Inquiry involved taking something we wished to understand apart, grasping the purpose of each part, and aggregating our understanding to comprehend the whole.[1] Further, a reductionistic perspective led to the belief that all relationships among parts could be reduced to cause and effect and that nothing happens by chance. The universe in this view became a machine created by God, as first cause. This early paradigm was embodied in the Industrial Revolution and led to the era of Modernism which continues to prevail. But slowly, over the second half of this century, evidence in science began to accumulate, first from Heisenberg and later other quantum physicists, that the universe may be a less certain place than we first supposed and cracks began to form in the mechanistic worldview. These theories have led to a more holistic, ecological and connected view of science which is spreading to other areas of knowledge as well.

While the mix of industrialism and science begun in the West was bringing unparalleled material progress, demoralization and a sense of loss were spreading. By the end of the century disillusion with the Modern era has taken root and Postmodern philosophers have begun raising the alarm. The most fundamental question we face as we enter the twenty-first century is how can we preserve what is best of our pluralistic society while overcoming the fragmented human isolation of Modernism? Not through a return to the past or through a leap into the relativism of Postmodernism but through the bold step of embracing the complexity of our world --- by creating new methods of inquiry for dealing with our seemingly intractable social problems and finding new institutional structures that can foster both community and diversity. This movement will ultimately transcend both Modernist and Postmodernist perspectives and might appropriately be called Transmodern.

Such new methods require a fundamental shift in the way we think about our world and how we approach the inquiry used to understand it. But a movement has been underway throughout the last century slowly leading to such a new paradigm. Highlighted by the publication of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory and philosophical works such as John Dewey’s Quest for Certainty, this view seeks to understand the interrelatedness of the universe. It gives place to synthesis as well as analysis in inquiry recognizing that a whole has properties that define it which do not reside in its parts. This new paradigm has given birth to the Systems Age. [2] Although this conceptualization of the world has been newly embraced by Western thinkers, it has been foundational to Eastern thought and religion for centuries. These cultures did not isolate themselves from the interrelatedness and wholeness of their world. Instead they saw richness in its complexity.

Today, in the West society is coming to understand that a paradigm based on analysis although necessary may be insufficient to fully explain our universe. As a diverse citizenry struggles to address real-life dilemmas, universities are sometimes seen as storehouses of esoteric knowledge rather than as living institutions that are relevant to life’s vital challenges. [3] However, within academe we are already witnessing the recognition of complexity of the world and the emergence of new tools such as fractal mathematics and chaos theory for dealing with complex systems. While numerous examples such as these can be cited on the intellectual plane, what is missing is an analogous development at the institutional level. Our institutional structures remain bound by specialization and are unfriendly to new cross-disciplinary modes of inquiry that address complexity. Yet society’s complicated problems do not come neatly packaged according to subject matter. We are doing our students a disservice to foster a belief that the only true perspective is that of the discipline in which they reside. The quest for knowledge does not respect disciplinary borders.

The ability to explore the interrelatedness of knowledge will call for new university structures requiring changes at the institutional level in the norms by which these organizations operate. Changes must go beyond mere shifts in procedure and tinkering about the edges. Universities must engage in activities designed to produce deep level, fundamental change. As Warner Burke notes, fundamental change means "that some significant aspect of an organization’s culture will never be the same."[4] A major challenge is to replace fragmentation with a sense of community which recognizes that higher education is part of a larger "eco-system" that interconnects it to the society it serves.[5] The university must become the mediating institution of the future linking theoretical knowledge with actual practice and spanning the boundaries of action-centered and abstract knowledge. Within this context the knowledge work of the university can be re-conceptualized to address the larger life issues of society.[6]

A New Model for Higher Education:

The Integrative University[7]

Initially beginning as homogeneous guilds of students and scholars focused on teaching, the idea of the university has already undergone two major transformations in which strong research and limited service components have been added, creating the university’s tripartite mission. To borrow a phrase from John Stuart Mill, the components of this mission might be called ‘standing antagonisms.’ In addition to creating an uneasy alliance within the mission, these two transformations have led to the development of large, complex multiversities. Such vast institutions not only have difficulty in developing a sense of connectedness with their external environment, they have lost their sense of internal cohesion. Parker Palmer and Russell Edgerton write of the "pain of disconnection, . . . whereby faculty become detached from students and colleagues, from their own intellectual vocation and the passions that originally animated it."[8] Palmer and Edgerton are joined by a profusion of voices heralding the need for a third transformation in higher education.

Foundational to the third transformation in higher education is the ability to see the university as a whole system. This is not an easy task for faculty and staff who are entrenched in viewing the organization from the perspective of their individual disciplines, specializations and functional areas. But this shift in perspective is vital to the deeper paradigm shift that must take place if the fragmented multiversity is to become connected. Much energy in higher education is being focused on reactions to immediate crises such as large scale faculty retirements and deteriorating physical plants. These matters are indeed significant. Yet, if systems theory is to be believed the long range solution to such problems lies not merely in quick fixes but in a redefinition of the higher education system that encompasses its interrelations with society.

We believe the next transformation will give rise to the integrative university or transversity representing the next stage in evolution from the university and multiversity.[9] The transversity is a new institution that will be multidimensionally connected not only within and across disciplines, but across cultural boundaries and across barriers to the broader society that separate it from primary education, industry, business, government and other institutions. These integrative universities will become living institutions in which organizational structure and patterns of behavior provide permeable boundaries to the outside community with fluid internal boundaries that allow people and resources to coalesce around prominent issues, opportunities, and challenges. These changes will enhance the exchange of research expertise and practical knowledge between universities and society.

This new type of university will begin to address fundamental questions such as the need for a new definition of scholarship. Scholars such as philosopher Nicholas Maxwell and theorist Donald Schon have suggested that a new kind of inquiry is needed to address the unstructured, "civilizing" problems and issues our society faces. To meet the challenges of a new age it may no longer be possible to concentrate solely on the generation, transmission and application of knowledge. We may need a "new, more rigorous kind of inquiry that gives intellectual priority to the tasks of articulating our problems of living, and . . ..assessing possible cooperative solutions."[10] The linear, analytic approach of separating the discovery of knowledge from its application is giving way as human need and limited resources have begun imposing new levels of accountability on higher education. A systemic view that encompasses both the discovery and application of knowledge and how it is interrelated is emerging.

The integrative transversity will also need to address the fundamental issue of connectedness -- first, to the external community and to its constituents. The development of the multiversity has resulted in a strong coupling of similar departments between universities while the coupling between departments in the same university has weakened. Paradoxically, as university president Hannah Gray states, this is occurring at a time when universities are also seeing "a more intense need to provide a home for communication among the different forms of learning as the future of learning depends more and more on cross-disciplinary developments and on the seamless spectrum of research and teaching."[11] Another level of coupling in which universities are linked to overarching issues with early childhood education, local government, industry, business, and other community organizations will also be needed as universities increase their efforts to bring the knowledge they develop to bear on the problems of society. These linkages are illustrated in figure 1.[12]

However, the task ahead is more difficult than reestablishing intellectual community across and within the university, or making linkages to the issues of society. We must recognize that there are multiplicities of race, social origin, sexual orientation, and income. Parallel sets of linkages and couplings must be developed in these dimensions as well. These linkages are illustrated in figure 2.[13] The question pluralistic societies confront is how to maintain cherished traditions of individual cultures without breaking the bonds of cohesion that hold the society together.

But the recognition that new types of internal and external connectedness are needed to address the large intractable problems of society is not sufficient. Universities must work to create new kinds of infrastructure that will not only allow but facilitate these linkages. For many years universities have supported a small and often insignificant place for what has been termed public service activities. The demands of a new age are transforming this element into a prominent component at many institutions. Public service is being transformed into academic outreach. The integration of outreach into the university and commitment to a public focus has become a powerful force in the university’s development.

Outreach, in the spirit of redefining scholarship, has become a "cross-cutting type of scholarship that flows through all of the academic missions of teaching, research and service and is not limited to service alone."[14] By meshing intellectual forms of knowledge with experience-based knowledge, mechanisms of continuous feedback from client communities can be put in place that ensure the continuous improvement of all aspects of the university's mission on and off campus. Outreach can enrich research and teaching, enhance the university's image, and contribute to the financial viability of the institution. Outreach also places pressure on the university’s internal units to work together in new cross-disciplinary and cross-functional ways as it strives to address the real life problems of its constituents.

These changes move beyond the old concepts of interdisciplinarity and service because they redefine the university in terms of both structure and focus. Outreach becomes central rather than marginal in the university’s development.[15]

Learning to Change:

Creating Integrative Universities

But how can we transform our existing institutions and move toward a new integrative model of higher education? The way in which fundamental, systemic change can be achieved in institutions that pride themselves on hundreds of years of tradition is not an insignificant question. To achieve such change requires a transformation of the culture as well as the infrastructure of the institution. Many universities that attempt long range change fail because they do not recognize the importance of three factors: 1) learning something new requires not only that we acquire new habits and information but discontinue some of our current attitudes and behaviors, 2) the members of the university community must build their capacity to not only accept but to facilitate changes that will move them toward their aspirations, and 3) fundamental change will not be achieved by short-term fixes of ailing institutional processes alone without reexamining our basic paradigms.

The authors are in the process of developing a Center for Integrative Universities [CIU] in collaboration with Peter Senge, Director of the Society for Organizational Learning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The CIU will bring together universities interested in becoming new models for higher education institutions. This group of universities will engage in activities designed to produce deep-level, fundamental change that will position them for success in the twenty-first century. Experience has shown that organizations that engage in deep level change are more successful if they share their experiences with other organizations that are undergoing change.[16] Such groups of organizations form learning collaboratives.

To transition academic institutions into integrative universities the Center will assist its members in moving through three phases of organizational change. Kurt Lewin refers to them as unfreezing, change, and refreezing.[17] We might call them cultural change and capacity building, developing and redesigning infrastructure, and institutionalizing learning and change.

Phase One: Cultural Change and Capacity Building
Peter Senge and his colleagues at the MIT Society for Organizational Learning note that organizations resist learning and change because of the same problems that plague society at large: focusing on fragmentation instead of systems, stressing competition over collaboration, and being reactive instead of proactive. [18] Senge provides guideposts for organizations undertaking fundamental change. The primary advantage of Senge’s approach is the recognition that organizations are comprised of the people who inhabit them. Basic to the approach is the development of people -- creating in them the capacities needed to free their ability to continually learn and grow. Institutions comprised of such people are called learning organizations. Learning organizations are places "where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together."[19]

The members of the CIU institutions will be engaged in "learningful conversation" which will allow the institution to develop deep learning cycles and to create the foundation of a learning organization by:

Identifying aspirations and developing a shared vision[20]

Based on the aspirations of the people who comprise the institutions and an awareness of their institution’s interrelationships with its community, the universities will define their identities in terms of core values. Members of the university communities will be challenged to examine their deep beliefs about the kind of world they want to live in and their institution’s role in making that world a reality. Unlike a strategic plan which focuses on actions, the outcome of this process will be the identification of fundamental beliefs.

Identifying the driving forces shaping behavior[21]

Members of the university communities will learn to use the method of personal reflection to move toward desired results by identifying the driving forces that shape their behavior. The capacity to use dialogue as a way of reflecting on deep assumptions and behaviors will be enhanced. The mental models that an institution’s members use for decision-making will be made explicit.

Developing the ability to think at the institutional level

Members of the university communities will be challenged to think in terms of entire systems rather than in terms of fragmented departmental or individual views. As this self-exploratory process grows and develops on campus, the goal would be to move from an institution whose culture is based on "fragmentation, compromise, defensiveness, and fear" to one which is based on "openness, commitment, and collective intelligence."[22]

To help achieve these goals members of the CIU institutions’ administrative teams will participate in a program developed by the MIT Society for Organizational Learning which incorporates the five disciplines of shared vision, personal mastery, mental models, team learning, and systems thinking.[23] The campus leaders who attend these sessions will then act as agents of change within their own organizations disseminating these ideas in the mode of cascade education (level to level learning) where each administrator teaches members of his or her team who in turn work with the people they lead until everyone in the organization becomes a participant.

Phase Two: Developing and Redesigning Infrastructure
As members of an organization acquire new capacities and beliefs that allow them to learn and explore alternatives, they begin to change. Thus, Lewin’s first and second stages of unfreezing and change become overlapping and mutually reinforcing. Therefore, in addition to building new individual and collective capacities for change it is important to build a structure in which change can be fostered. We believe that the integrative university or transversity provides a framework that can sustain and support a learning organization. While creating the capacities which enable member universities to become learning organizations is the foundation of the CIU project, its heart is transforming these institutions into integrative universities which possess the historical, philosophical, and practical knowledge and infrastructure that will allow them to shape their organizational identity for a new century. This process involves:

Identifying guiding ideas[24]

An integrative university is a framework within which growth, development, and change can occur. This framework is predicated on a set of guiding ideas. As indicated earlier, universities have already undergone two great transformations which have created the multiversity. A fragmented institution comprised of countless specializations. The idea of the integrative university is to move beyond the fragmentation of thought and structure which currently characterize academe to a state where disparate components become interrelated.

The following are guiding ideas for building the integrative university:[25]

1. Learning is the process of inquiry and critical thinking.

2. Pluralism and diversity are essential to the free and open
dialogue that undergirds critical thinking.

3. Dialogue is the foundation for community and connectedness.

4. Participative democracy is the only social form which preserves the pluralism needed for critical inquiry while maintaining community.

5. Wholes are primordial to parts and relationships are more fundamental than things.

6. The self is embedded in community and culture which shape it.

7. A community’s culture (its shared language, observations, and meaning) is generative and human beings participate in shaping the world they perceive.

8. Knowledge of the whole derives from the integration of different perspectives

Creating innovations in infrastructure

Frank Lloyd Wright indicated that in architecture form should follow function. Likewise, universities must look to their missions and core values to help them design the organizational structures that are best suited to achieving their aspirations. The structure of institutions of higher education is rooted in our beliefs about knowledge and its nature. As we have seen the concept of the fragmented multiversity with its isolated disciplines and departments grew from the Renaissance paradigm of equating thought with analysis and the mechanization of the Machine Age. But that paradigm is changing and new structures must emerge that can sustain a multidimensionally connected community of scholars pursing inquiry into the interrelatedness of knowledge.

Although the change in how knowledge is defined as we move from the Machine Age to the Systems Age is the most profound change likely to affect the future of how universities are structured, there are changes taking place on many levels within our society that will affect how we redesign and deliver education. It is hoped that within the Center for Integrative Universities several levels of dialogue can be sustained from the philosophical to the practical. Thus, as member institutions develop facility with the five learning disciplines, and cultural changes begin to take root, they will begin dialogues about fundamental issues of redesign in higher education and examination of the barriers today’s institutions present to a learning culture. Several internal issues will present themselves for discussion as groups begin building an infrastructure for change. Some examples include:

1. Reward Structure

If it is desirable for faculty and staff to value and participate in collaborative efforts and to maintain a broader university perspective, the faculty and staff reward structure should reflect this value.

2. Budgeting

If transdisciplinary activities are valued by the university, they must be supported in the budget structure.

3. Operational structures


The changing nature of inquiry and knowledge may require a redesign of the major academic units of the university. One method for achieving linkages between the
elements of the university mission is to create new structures in which each major academic unit has a balanced complement of theory based and practice based units.


Within the university the structure of disciplines has led to a narrow focus on the limited, technical problems of specialized segments of academe. Attempts to overcome this deficiency have led to the development of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary programs, centers, and institutes. Although these groups focus on common themes they continue to do so from the fairly rigid perspectives of individual disciplines. Such centers and institutes also continue to draw facultyaway from the university due to their dependence on external funding. A change to transdisciplinary efforts founded on approaching a problem or idea without the "presumption of a distinctive disciplinary approach" could provide a new"worldview" from which new ideas and innovations would be generated.[26]


Numerous studies show that students often experience their university education as disjointed and compartmentalized. A new integrative program structure might help resolve this difficulty.

The goal of these discussions will be for member universities to understand their placement within a historical and societal context, to refine their individual institutional identities, and to implement the most effective university structures and policies to carry out their targeted missions. Although the forces impinging on higher education will drive all institutions toward a more integrative model, no one structure is expected to emerge as appropriate for all institutions. It is hoped that several new, exciting, and innovative organizational structures will develop within the CIU institutions.

Phase Three: Institutionalizing Learning and Change
Lewin identifies refreezing as the last stage of the change process. But if an organization succeeds in becoming a learning organization the implementation of new ideas and strategies is simply a temporary settlement in which today’s best practices become stepping stones to tomorrow’s innovations. Thus, in system terms it is not the content of the change which we desire to "refreeze" but the learning processes--the attitudes, beliefs, skills and capacities which promote continued growth-- processes such as identifying aspirations, reflecting on deep assumptions and behaviors, seeing the system as a whole, recognizing the deeper patterns of meaning, and questioning the organizational stories that form the institution’s identity.[27]


We believe the marriage of these two powerful ideas---the use of organizational theory to ready institutions of higher education to become learning organizations and the model of the integrative university built on new concepts of structure which act as a framework within which change can take place---will have a remarkable impact. Without unfreezing current culture and building new capacities institutions will not achieve deep level change. Without creating an infrastructure that supports cultural change only fragmented attempts and partial solutions will be implemented.



1. Ideas presented in this paragraph are fully discussed in R. L. Ackoff, "From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking: A Digest of a Talk by Russell L. Ackoff," Cambridge, MA: Pegasus Communications, 1997.

2. Ackoff, pp 6-7.

3. From S. Awbrey, D. Scott, and P. Senge, "Learning to Change: A Proposal to Develop a Center for Integrative Universities," unpublished document, 1997.

4. From W. W. Burke, Organization Development: A Normative View (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1987), p 9.

5. Discussed in E. Lynton, and E. Boyer, Scholarship Recognized (Washington D.C.: Carnegie Foundation, 1993).

6. Speech by D. Schön, "Response to: What Kind of Inquiry Can Best Help Us Create a
Good World?" presented at American Association for Higher Education conference on
Faculty Roles and Rewards, New Orleans, LA. , January, 1994.

7. Ideas in this section are discussed in D. Scott and S. Awbrey, "Transforming the
University," in proceedings of the conference on Women in Science and Engineering,

Bloomington, IN: Committee on Institutional Cooperation, 1992, p 47 [monograph

bound separately] and in S. Awbrey, D. Scott, and P. Senge, 1997.

8. P. Palmer, "Community and Commitment in Higher Education," Washington, D.C.: American Association of Higher Education Bulletin, 3, 1992.

9. From D. Scott and S. Awbrey, 1992.

10. N. Maxwell, From Knowledge to Wisdom: A Revolution in the Aims and Methods
of Science
. (London: Basil Blackwell, 1984), p 3.

11. H. Gray, "Some Reflections on the Commonwealth of Learning" presentation at the
American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, 1992.

12. D. Scott and S. Awbrey, 1992, p 47.

13. Ibid, p 54.

14. From F. Fear, et.al., "University Outreach at Michigan State University: Extending
Knowledge to Serve Society," unpublished report of the Provost’s Committee on
University Outreach, 1993, p 3.

15. For in-depth discussion see M.L. Walshock, Knowledge Without Boundaries (San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995).

16. P. Senge, et.al., The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (New York: Doubleday, 1994).

17. Discussed in Kreitner, R. and Kinicki, A., Organizational Behavior
(Chicago: IRWIN, 1995).

18. Kofman, F. and Senge, P. ,"Communities of Commitment: The Heart of the Learning
Organization" in Learning Organizations: Developing Tomorrow’s Workplace, eds S. Chawla and J. Renesch (Portland, OR: Productivity Press, 1995), p 16.

19. P. Senge, The Fifth Discipline (New York: Doubleday, 1990), p 3.

20. In P. Senge, et.al., 1994.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. P. Senge, 1990, p 5-12.

24. P. Senge, et.al., 1994, pp 22-24.

25. Guiding ideas 5,6,7 adapted from P. Senge, et.al., 1994, pp 24-27.

26. In R. Bernstein, The New Constellation (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,1992).

27. Discussed in P. Senge, et.al., 1994.

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