In a description so buzzword-happy and circumventing it could almost be an Onion story, the University of Southern California has announced a new program for its graduate school: The USC Diploma in Innovation Program. According to the site, "students will emerge from the program with a greater ability to recognize the broad possibilities for how their academic expertise intersects with pressing societal needs and with the skills necessary to meet those needs in tangible ways." Huh? Is that not the goal for any higher education program?
This program arrives at a time when bloggers and designers are logging some serious backlash against the I-word, which has become so trendy it has nearly been rendered meaningless. (The Merriam-Webster definition? "The introduction of something new.") Some writers like Scott Berkun have demanded you stop using it. Bruce Nussbaum at BusinessWeek declared it dead back in 2008.
It seems that USC's program can't really decide what it wants to be, remaining ambiguous right down to the curriculum, which is divided into puzzling categories like "Disciplinary Perspectives in Innovation." A more detailed description of sample goals for students seems to be more akin to teaching entrepreneurial skills: "Innovations can take the shape of new products or services; new ventures, ranging from non-profits to venture-backed start-ups; as well as entirely new ways of collaborating around important ideas."
The program is open to advanced Ph.D. students from all disciplines enrolled at USC, who can take three four-unit courses during a flexible period as to not interrupt their non-innovative coursework. At least they've got nothing to lose: The program is completely free.