Right-brained people

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

January 16, 2007 Ed Cartoon

The dearth of liberal arts-minded people in the business world is understandable since universities aren’t producing well-rounded students and businesses are neglecting to draw recruits from a variety of programs.

Interdisciplinary skills, especially the four listed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities as essential, (knowledge across multiple disciplines; intellectual and practical skills; a sense of personal and social responsibility, including ethical reasoning; and application of knowledge to real-world problems) are not only important but are most easily acquired in a university setting. As such, universities should try to ensure their business graduates have this skill set.

However, producing graduates with all these skills is difficult, as the university system is structured so students must choose very specific programs with weak breadth requirements. Once in a program, it’s assumed a student studies what he or she plans to do later in life. For example, students in history programs are rarely expected to do anything other than education or law despite having transferable skills.

In universities requiring science students to take an arts course and vice versa, students often feel they must take the easiest out-of-program course available or jeopardize their averages. Out of fear of failure, biology students interested in English literature may instead take a “bird” essay course they care little for. This is a legitimate worry, since English courses for English students are often difficult for those not in the program, and there are no low-level courses designated and designed for science or business students seeking breadth of knowledge. It’s therefore hard for students to achieve a broad knowledge base through interdisciplinary study.

Yet universities aren’t the only problem. Norms in the business world dictate the selection of a certain type of student for employment: someone enrolled in a business program with a high grade point average and extracurricular experience. Businesses haven’t frequently demanded that their business school recruits have liberal arts experience, so should these students forego business courses to take arts courses?

In addition, by neglecting to recruit high-achievement students from liberal arts programs themselves, businesses ignore an enormous pool of potential employees. Businesses should be proactive, seeking some recruits with backgrounds in the humanities. What those graduates lack in formal business training, they could make up in communication and critical thinking skills.

Universities must also give their students a broad base of usable knowledge, or at the very least the opportunity to gain one. And if any science or business students seek ungraded writing experience, a certain student newspaper is always happy to take new recruits.

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