Update: This post was called "University of Houston closes its future studies course" but the course is now alive and well and I wanted to stop the misleading title appearing prominently in related Google searches. The course has moved to the main University of Houston campus and appears to be much invigorated. Read more about it. (20 April 2006)
I'm guessing that the future must have seemed a more viable prospect in the past. This week it was announced that the University of Houston - Clear Lake is to wind up its Future Studies masters degree, which was founded in 1975, just up the road from NASA's Johnson Space Center.
I spent over a year completing the course over the turn of the century, and I was upset when I heard of its closure. Not that the news was wholly unexpected; the course managed to enroll 30-40 students but this wasn't enough to prevent it feeling small, with classes ranging from five to around 15 students. Not enough for the administration to keep it on the books when they could be concentrating on more populous courses, many of which, for some reason, attract large numbers of lucrative students from all over Asia. So now Peter Bishop, the remaining stalwart professor in the programme, is presumably looking for new prospects.
My disappointment in the news shouldn't imply I had no problems with my time there. I hoped for fascinating and intellectual students from all over the US, rather than variable students from all over Houston. Most classes were taught in the evening, which is wonderful for those in work, but leaves the full-time student with days to fill in Clear Lake, which is not a place to spend much time. For me it was a peculiar and often horrifically depressing time, although little of the blame for that could be laid at the feet of the course. While too many classes were less rigorous than I hoped for, the best were fascinating experiences that I only wish more people could have shared. My intellectual horizons broadened hugely in classes such as Social Change and Creating Cultures and I've certainly looked at the world -- past, present and future -- in a very different way ever since.
Could anything have been done to save the programme? I was always surprised how few people outside the surprisingly tight field of future studies knew of it. Why didn't more people from my world of, for example, Wired-reading, weblogging, R&D-oriented folk know about it? As the only course of its kind in the country it should have been attracting far more students from all over. But this would have required investment in PR and, I think, staff and classes. Investment that would itself require a longer-term view than that of the budget-balancing administration.
But it's all over now, and coupled with 2002's closure of Leeds Metroplitan University's masters in future studies, prospects don't seem rosy for those wanting to learn (or teach) how to gain a rounded futures perspective on the world, and help others think for the long term. Hopefully there are other, more positive, events happening out there, and I'm just too out of touch with the futures world to know about them...