Do The Humanities Need Rescuing?

I love mornings when there are many interesting articles in the newspaper. Boeing is dealing with its production problems, and as a result, delivering more airplanes. The election is moving forward, and analysts are deliberating who is ahead. But the article that caught my attention this morning reinforces my belief that teaching business in a liberal arts setting produces the best result.

Enrollment in colleges and universities have decreased recently. In fact, this is first time in decades that this has happened. For profit colleges are getting hit the worst. Promises made and not followed through on, as well as cost, are the drivers for this reduction. However, this is not the purpose of today’s blog. “A half century ago in his famous two cultures speech, C.P. Snow defined the growing riff between the world of sciences (and the commercial world) and that of literary intellectuals (including the humanities).” The future of this polemic is changing, simply because the world is changing.

According to the WSJ parents of college students are asking if their child will be able to get a job after spending many dollars on tuition to earn a degree. As a result, “There are parents that are telling their children that they will only pay for a business, engineering, or science degree.” Is that an accurate concern? It may not be due to the current needs of business.

What type of skills does business want, and can the university provide these skills? Does business want a highly trained accountant who has no people skills, or does business want a more well rounded individual that knows how to think and can relate to human beings, not that all accountants can’t?

The article I read this morning written by Michael Malone discussed how to avoid a bonfire of humanities. His article demonstrated the importance of cross discipline collaboration of the sciences and humanities. This reinforces my belief that teaching business in a liberal arts environment will produce the best result. “A few months back I [Michael] invited a friend to speak in front of my professional writing class, Santosh Jayaram is the quintessential Silicon Valley high tech entrepreneur.” Malone who teaches writing asked his friend not to convince people to change to studying business, but Jayaram told Malone, “Are you kidding, English majors are exactly the kind of people I am looking for.”

Today business is about human connection and stories. You tell stories about your product, and how it will be used. These stories are about meeting human need. As I read this I remember what I told my students last week. We were discussing human resource management and why it is so strategically important now. The way we do commerce today is different than in previous decades. We have moved from a production philosophy to a service mentality. This is a critical step. Production deals with efficiency, and effectiveness and efficiency is still important, but by moving to a service mentality we have gone to a more relational paradigm. Service doesn’t happen to machinery, service is provided to people. Thus the importance of writing to tell a story, oral communication becomes critical, and don’t forget the importance of ethics. Parents keep sending your students to liberal arts colleges. They will be prepared for the new world.

And that is my thought for the day!


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