Academy | structure


Academia is usually conceived as divided into disciplines or fields of study. These have their roots in the subjects of the medieval trivium and quadrivium, which provided the model for scholastic thought in the first universities in medieval Europe.

The disciplines have been much revised, and many new disciplines have become more specialized, researching smaller and smaller areas. Because of this, interdisciplinary research is often prized in today's academy, though it can also be made difficult both by practical matters of administration and funding and by differing research methods of different disciplines. In fact, many new fields of study have initially been conceived as interdisciplinary, and later become specialized disciplines in their own right – a recent example is cognitive science.

Most academic institutions reflect the divide of the disciplines in their administrative structure, being divided internally into departments or programs in various fields of study. Each department is typically administered and funded separately by the academic institution, though there may be some overlap and faculty members, research and administrative staff may in some cases be shared among departments. In addition, academic institutions generally have an overall administrative structure (usually including a president and several deans) which is controlled by no single department, discipline, or field of thought. Also, the tenure system, a major component of academic employment and research in the US, serves to ensure that academia is relatively protected from political and financial pressures on thought.


The degree awarded for completed study is the primary academic qualification. Typically these are, in order of completion, associate's degree, bachelor's degree (awarded for completion of undergraduate study), master's degree, and doctorate (awarded after graduate or postgraduate study). These are only currently being standardized in Europe as part of the Bologna process, as many different degrees and standards of time to reach each are currently awarded in different countries in Europe. In most fields the majority of academic researchers and teachers have doctorates or other terminal degrees, though in some professional and creative fields it is common for scholars and teachers to have only master's degrees.

Academic conferences

Closely related to academic publishing is the practice of bringing a number of intellectuals in a field to give talks on their research at an academic conference, often allowing for a wider audience to be exposed to their ideas.

Conflicting goals

Within academia, diverse constituent groups have diverse, and sometimes conflicting, goals. In the contemporary academy several of these conflicts are widely distributed and common. A salient example of conflict is that between the goal to improve teaching quality and the goal to reduce costs. The conflicting goals of professional education programs and general education advocates currently are playing out in the negotiation over accreditation standards. For example, the goals of research for profit and for the sake of knowledge often conflict to some degree.[citation needed]

Practice and theory

Putting theory into practice can result in a gap between what is learned in academic settings and how that learning is manifested in practical settings. This is addressed in a number of professional schools such as education and social work, which require students to participate in practica for credit. Students are taught to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Not everyone agrees on the value of theory as opposed to practice. Academics are sometimes criticized as lacking practical experience and thus too insulated from the 'real world.' Academic insularity is colloquially criticized as being "ivory tower"; when used pejoratively, this term is criticized as anti-intellectualism.

To address this split, there is a growing body of practice research, such as the practice-based research network (PBRN) within clinical medical research. Arts and humanities departments debate how to define this emerging research phenomenon. There are a variety of contested models of practice research (practice-as-research, practice-based and practice through research), for example, screen media practice research.

Town and gown

Universities are often culturally distinct from the towns or cities where they reside. In some cases this leads to discomfort or outright conflict between local residents and members of the university over political, economic, or other issues. Some localities in the Northeastern United States, for instance, have tried to block students from registering to vote as local residents—instead encouraging them to vote by absentee ballot at their primary residence—in order to retain control of local politics.[citation needed] Other issues can include deep cultural and class divisions between local residents and university students. The film Breaking Away dramatizes such a conflict.