Frequently Asked Questions:

Here we address several questions and concerns that arise frequently. Have a question or concern that isn't addressed here? Contact us and we'll add them!

  • About Our Purpose and Proposed Institute

    • What is the purpose of your organization?

      The primary purpose of the Polymath Foundation is to establish an interdisciplinary educational university that trains polymaths rather than specialists. In so doing, our ultimate goal is to spark a renaissance of creativity and innovation: a handful of polymaths naturally dominate each era, but never before have so many been trained on this scale. Once this institution is founded, we plan to institute similar initiatives in primary and secondary education and to promote awareness of existing interdisciplinary pedagogical ideologies, such as Waldorf education, on this level.

    • How is your proposed institution different from established universities?

      We encourage students to learn many different subjects, then tie principles from those subjects together to create new ideas.

      As a consequence of this, our curriculum will be modular: driven by student goals and large-scale projects that result in real-world achievements, rather than confined to an individual area of study. The disciplines students study will either relate to their projects or will conform to their preferences.

      We will also strive to provide students with leadership development opportunities (but not requirements) on campus, in the workplace, and in their communities. We ultimately hope to involve students in the university's operations, branding, and policymaking as well, making our institution truly student-run.

      To summarize, our university is different because it is student-centric. University is a stage during which many students are first treated as adults. We intend to go a bit further: treating students as mature, purpose-driven individuals with unique individual aspirations and boundless potential to attain them.

    • So you're proposing to teach everyone everything?

      No, that is unfortunately impossible. We propose to break down the barriers separating disciplines, however, and allow students to cross-cut and integrate. We're fostering both convergent and divergent modes of thought, particularly as applied to leadership and creativity. We primarily emphasize the creation and application of ideas. After all, what is commonly referred to as “genius” is merely a collection of original, paradigm-shifting ideas and sufficient ability to fully express them. That's all it takes!

    • Students aren't mature enough to know their own goals at that stage of their lives!

      Some are - and from their biographies, it's clear that Franklin and Jefferson, da Vinci and Aristotle, Einstein and Newton were! Those who are not will either identify their goals rapidly (which is doing them a great service) or will be swiftly weeded out by the necessity of choice inherent in the curriculum. Not everyone will benefit from our program. That's ok - the existing model serves some students well and isn't going anywhere.

    • So it's a school for undecided majors?

      No, it is the exact opposite! The undecided major was created to allow students time to identify a purpose to latch onto, on the premise that no such purpose exists at the time of enrollment. Polymaths, modern and historical, are not only guided, but defined by a purpose that spans disciplinary bounds, often identified at a young age and adhered to very strongly. They have a very clear idea of what they wish to accomplish; it just does not fit neatly within the confines of a single field.

    • Do you plan on being selective?

      Not in the sense of a selective admissions process, as our approach is inclusionist and universal (that is not to say that enrollment will be open, however; certain expectations will be imposed). However, the additional load of an interdisciplinary requirement added to the already formidable rigor of the disciplinary component - and the need to possess well-defined and consistent goals which drive learning objectives - will naturally self-select only the most able and motivated students. We will work closely with other institutions to develop transfer programs for those students who are better served elsewhere, for whatever reason that may be and without passing judgment.

      We will also provide a self-assessment in our application process to help guide prospective students' decisions to apply.

  • About Our Organization

    • What is the difference between “The Polymath Foundation” and “Project Polymath”?

      The Polymath Foundation refers to the organization itself, while Project Polymath refers to the organization's primary initiative to start a university.

    • Is your organization a non-profit?

      Yes, the Polymath Foundation is a tax-exempt public charity under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS tax code and is a registered non-profit corporation of New Jersey. Contributions to the organization are deductible from United States income tax.

    • When was it founded?

      The Polymath Foundation was incorporated on March 20, 2008.

    • How is your organization governed, and by whom?

      Please refer to our articles of incorporation and bylaws for our governing policies. Check out our team page for information about the members of our team.

    • How can I get involved?

      We have a variety of volunteer opportunities open, and donations are always appreciated. You can also teach a course, organize a Junto, or write an essay about your educational experience and the need for a more polymathic, student-centric educational institution. However you choose to get involved in the movement, thanks for your help!

  • On Polymaths

    • Why is it useful to cultivate polymaths?

      There are many reasons: the students themselves are opened to a much more vibrant world, filled with connections and patterns, and discover their full potential to grasp those patterns, cultivating a wealth of original ideas and a great deal of aesthetic enrichment. Even in isolation, this would be sufficient justification. However, focused into action by unique visions of social good and aggregated over many students, the transformative potential of this approach is unprecedented. It really can lead to a renaissance.

    • Is polymathy even possible in the modern era?

      Yes. It is true that the knowledge base is exponentially larger than it was in the Renaissance, but much of this knowledge is only relevant to a select few endeavors at any given time. Polymathy, like all genius, is not about acquiring complete knowledge, but about building a select knowledge base and successfully applying it to a creative purpose, resulting in a tangible work. The difference between polymathy and specialization is the emphasis on developing this knowledge base across as well as within traditional disciplines.

      The larger state of the knowledge base also provides a justification for formal education of polymaths. Education is an assistive tool for navigating, comprehending, and ultimately generating complex ideas. Formally educated polymaths would be given a significant advantage over their autodidactic predecessors. As educators, we are in a position to provide that advantage.

    • Are polymaths useful to employers? Will they be able to find careers?

      Unquestionably. Businesses now seek employees with combinations of quantitative, technical, and “soft” skills, all of which are endowed by a strong interdisciplinary education. A polymathic background is also excellent preparation for creative and leadership roles within a company. In fact, many employers implicitly consider polymaths their ideal employees!

      We additionally suspect that a disproportionate number of our graduates will become employers themselves, and will seek employees with similarly broad expertise, having developed a firsthand appreciation of the approach.

  • About the Plan

    • Starting a university sounds difficult. How do you plan on doing it?

      Our primary approach is bootstrapping: courses may be offered individually or in clusters, with tuition income from one course funding the next. We count university faculty among our board and our supporters, and can often launch a course at little cost. Our courses also serve as outreach, networking, and procedural opportunities. Though our movement predated the boom in open educational resources, we now utilize them to great effect to fill gaps in coursework which we cannot easily fill with instructors. We will also solicit grants from individuals, businesses, and foundations, but we do not rely on them. We have already received a grant of a significant amount of classroom space. Once accredited, we will rely primarily on tuition and roughly 5% equity in the businesses we incubate to fund the university.

    • How long will this take?

      We estimated a timeline of roughly a decade from idea to full realization of our vision in 2008, which we still believe to be realistic. We are now targeting our initial class of students on our Cleveland campus for the Fall 2015 semester. Partial operations are up much earlier, and we have in fact already began offering courses and lectures in our communities and online.

    • Do you partner with businesses?

      Yes! We can offer employee training programs in a wide variety of fields (particularly in technological literacy) and most emphatically look forward to forming business relationships.

    • And other educational institutions?

      Again, yes! We are looking to develop credit programs with educational institutions, particularly to fill in early gaps that we cannot initially fill in with our own instructional resources.

    • Do you plan on seeking accreditation?

      Yes, we wish to eventually offer accredited degree programs. Since we are now based in Cleveland, we're working toward the accreditation standards of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. We have not yet started the process (and are prohibited by the accrediting association from disclosing our progress toward accreditation once we do).

    • Your program is very unique. Any difficulties reconciling it with accreditation requirements?

      Thematically and concretely, many of our innovations are compatible with accreditation, because they are geared toward improving learning and guiding students to exceptional outcomes. The primary concession we've had to make toward accreditation requirements lies in our core curriculum: accrediting boards require a well-defined core consisting of a number of topic-specific units in subjects such as English literacy, which all students must be exposed to. Consequently, we've put together an extremely flexible curriculum consisting of a series of “topic units”, corresponding to individual lecture topics, which students may follow in sequence or “branch out” at strategic points into other subjects as they see fit (see our sample syllabi for how this works). Topic unit requirements encompass core curricular requirements, but may be integrated into a wider curricular plan of the student's design rather than taken monolithically. This makes our curriculum compatible with accreditation requirements while still preserving a great deal of student flexibility and freedom within the core.

    • Will you be offering degrees prior to accreditation?

      No. We do not offer non-accredited degrees, nor do we have non-accredited degree programs. We will begin offering degree programs when we receive accreditation (or when required in the process of seeking accreditation). However, we do plan to offer professional certifications earlier.

      We are not a diploma mill and do not grant degrees based on anything other than completion of an accredited course of study. We do not yet have such a program in place and thus have not yet issued any degrees. Should an applicant claim to possess a degree from our institution at this time, you may categorically treat that claim as a fabrication; however, please also notify us of the incident so we may track down any such misrepresentation.

    • Do you have a system of institutional review in place?

      Yes. Our board of trustees and executive committee meet monthly to discuss our initiatives and review what is and is not working. Later in our plan, this responsibility will be delegated to an institutional review committee, which will report its findings directly to the board of trustees and executive committee.