It’s good for business:

Undergraduate business programs should be more deeply infused with the virtues of a traditional liberal-arts education, two scholars said here on Thursday at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“Business programs are often quite effective, but also terribly narrow,” said William M. Sullivan, a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, during a panel discussion. Narrow preprofessional programs, he said, do not give students the depth they need to be morally engaged citizens and intellectually agile workers….

Even at those programs, Mr. Sullivan said, there is still often a disconnect between business and nonbusiness courses. Students sometimes perceive their liberal-arts courses as irrelevant to their career plans or as generally unserious.

Despite those challenges, the 10 programs do include courses and curricula that are worth emulating, said Anne Colby, who is also a senior scholar at the foundation.

She cited Franklin & Marshall College’s department of business, organizations, and society, which emphasizes the sociology of organizations and the history of economic thought.

Ms. Colby also praised a course in professional responsibility and leadership that is required of all seniors in New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business.

“The course asks students to consider the role of business in society and the ethics of acting as a business professional,” she said. “It includes case studies from business, but also classic liberal-arts texts, including Chekhov, Walt Whitman, Confucius, Plato, Cicero, and Machiavelli.”

Mr. Sullivan said that while business programs should embrace the liberal arts, it is equally true that liberal-arts programs have things to learn from business and other preprofessional fields.

He said that in visiting the 10 programs in this study, he was sometimes struck by how much stronger the instruction was in business courses than in liberal-arts courses. In business courses, students often actively worked on simulations and other group projects. “When well done, that kind of active learning can be extremely effective,” Mr. Sullivan said. “But rarely did the students encounter anything remotely as powerful in their liberal-arts courses.”

More broadly, Mr. Sullivan argued that liberal-arts programs should help students cultivate “practical reasoning” and prepare them for the world of work.

Practical reasoning = phronesis, the Aristotelian term for making practical as opposed to theoretical or mathematical judgments. It encompasses everything from moral decision making to politics to literary criticism. Ergo, if this is the case, then studying literary criticism is experience in making the kinds of judgments necessary for real life. One would like to distinguish between sitting blankly in a class on literature and spending all the necessary hours reading and thinking and writing about it, but that is the case for every undergraduate no matter what their major.

Business theory understands that storytelling isn’t just for professors of literature and evolutionary biologist. We are defined as individuals and groups by the stories we tell about ourselves, by our understanding of the past and our sense of where we are individually and collectively heading in the future.

Why else, during the recent disaster in Haiti, was there a call from Haiti for help to save their libraries? In response, there was an outpouring of support from around the world. At first glance, that seems counterintuitive: why ask for aid to save books when the people who read them are short of medicine? But the libraries are repositories of Haiti’s past, and if Haiti is to have a future it will have to be there, too. There’s an evolutionary aspect to this drive, a cultural one, and even perhaps a spiritual one, as people long to secure an honest legacy for themselves after they die.

In some sense students become their education. They don’t just know facts, but they embody what they learn. The practical outcome of studying literature is just this: if you sit in discussions learning how to articulate your ideas and to respond to the questions and challenges of other people, you’re going to interview far, FAR better than some kid who sat in a gigantic lecture hall with five hundred other Facebooking laptoppers and took a few multiple choice tests. And you’ll be more useful once you’ve been hired, too, because you have some sense of how to communicate with and understand the people around you. What could be a better preparation for success in life than learning how it is that other people live, and growing bold in your interactions with them as a result?

See here for one example.

Advertisements