So, to summarize, the suggestion here is essentially that academia should be re-made into a massive national think tank for the "interdisciplinary" solution (by Powerpoint presentation, it seems) of Major World Problems, to be regulated by...the government? An independent board of American university oversight? Not entirely clear, but it "must be rigorously regulated."
All other vague parts of this proposal aside (though, in advance of starting grad school, I would like to voice my support for the suggestion that dissertations be replaced with "analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games"), I am most puzzled by the idea that due to a lack of interdisciplinarity in the current system, we should enforce interdisciplinarity in the next by getting rid of the current, "medieval" disciplines and replacing them with new, shinier disciplines. I don't know about you, but I never encountered the swollen ego of English literature thrashing the Platonic form of History on the quad because the latter had dared to infringe on its disciplinary sovereignty. I assumed it was the people in these departments who were jealously guarding the boundaries of their disciplines and attempting to demonstrate their relevance--a problem that largely isn't resolved by re-naming their departments "land" and "water." After all, who will get the funding to study coasts?
Isn't there already an economic incentive to solve Major World Problems? If water distribution is a major political and economic problem, then isn't there a reasonable pot of gold awaiting those who can find solutions to this problem? Isn't this why science grad students get bigger stipends than humanities grad students--because the private sector compensation for the same work would be that much higher? But no such incentive exists for the study of at least half of what's actually being studied in universities. Maybe that means it shouldn't be studied, as Taylor suggests, but where is that going to leave his own department's specialties? Who really needs to know Sanskrit or Koine Greek to solve modern development problems? Maybe Taylor is entertaining rosy visions of a university of the future in which we draw harmoniously on all current and historical branches of human learning to think deeply about the 'big problems,' but if the desired end is concrete policy proposals, then I can imagine how long analytic philosophers who keep asking, "But what do we mean by 'the'?" are going to be allowed on the project team.
For seriously though, I really don't have an opinion on whether there is too much emphasis on publishing books or too little interdisciplinarity. I like books (but not writing them) and I like interdisciplinarity, too. I also like teh internets, but don't see how making an interactive website is not a cop-out of writing a substantial piece of analysis, whether or not it gets published (as some of you may remember, I employed this very cop-out in high school, with great success). But mostly, it's the "gee-whiz! technology! change happens so fast!" glee of this proposal that irks me. Considered reform is one thing. But Taylor seems to think that because things change over time, in ways that sometimes seem unfair or arbitrary to those who get the short end of the change stick, our response should be to make them change even faster and in more arbitrary ways to show that we are one step ahead of change. We threw all the over-65 geezers taking up office space with their outdated ideas on the street! We drowned all the disciplines that we spent 400 years developing in the new Water major! We have YouTube dissertations! We PWN change!
And one more thing: FLG's post on the inexorable logic of specialization prompts me to wonder why Taylor assumes broadness will follow from interdisciplinarity? It's one thing to say more people should study problems at the boundaries of several traditional disciplines or look beyond their department for new methodologies, but it's another thing entirely to assume that those studies will be any more general in nature than the specialized things they would've studied in their old disciplines. Research on "on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations" may become research about citations as a literary trope after one runs a regression on their frequency in a document relative to comparable texts and to Duns Scotus' alcohol consumption on any given day of citing, but it's not going to be a grand unifying theory of the West.