Mules and hinnies. Ligers and tigons. Zonkeys and zorses. The tiger muskie and the bloodball python. The animal world is filled with inter-species and occasionally inter-genera crossbreeds known as hybrids, from the Latin ibrida or mongrel. A lot of them have come specifically from human intervention, the work of farmers and stockmen trying to gain the best attributes of two different creatures.
A lot of these hybrids turn out to be sterile, most often because the parents have different numbers of chromosomes. Mules, for instance, are almost always sterile, but you can get a lot of work out of them for a lot of years.
[come on, you know where I’m going with this…]
So the stockmen of higher education have also experimented with a lot of hybrid programs as well, which they call “interdisciplinary.” Crosses of social science with architecture (environment-behavior studies), history with engineering (history of science and technology), world languages with anthropology and political science (Asian studies, for instance). They’re fascinating, and they contribute to important new ways of understanding the phenomena around us. But as fun as the mating may have been for the parents, most of these mongrel offspring will ultimately be sterile. The horse parents have their safe home in the horse pasture, and the donkey parents have their safe home in the donkey barn, but the graduate-student mule is born to do lots and lots of really useful work and then to never be accepted within any fertile partner community. As long as the hiring in higher education is done by departments, this will never ever change; the mongrels will be shunned, not really part of any originating herd and unable to develop a viable new species. But they’ll be useful for dragging the scholarly cart.
Image of the Zorse from Wikipedia, originally at http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3645/3322859004_4224a726b8.jpg?v=0.