Phi Beta Cons

Rethinking the Business Major

If you think business schools have problems, wait until you read some of the solutions.

In the Wall Street Journal, Melissa Korn presents some critiques of today’s business education:

The biggest complaint: The undergraduate degrees focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting and don’t develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal-arts courses.

This is only half-true. Yes, business students can use more critical thinking, but the undergraduate business degree is not guilty of focusing too much on finance and accounting — that can only be true for finance and accounting majors. Management, marketing, business administration, and management information systems majors spend only a few credit hours in such courses.

Ms. Korn notes programs at George Washington and The University of Denver that aim for a liberal-arts approach to business education. We should look at these programs with some caution:

Doug Guthrie, dean of the George Washington University School of Business, is planning to draw on expertise in the university’s psychology and philosophy departments to teach business ethics and he’ll seek help from the engineering program to address sustainability

Next fall, the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business will provide a required course to teach first-year students how to view business issues in a global context. The class, being piloted this spring, will have instruction in business history, ethics, social responsibility, sustainability and other subjects.

Pick up any college text titled “Management” or “Marketing.” You’ll find plenty of psychology and philosophy. These proposals sound eerily similar to the ideological ones noted in NAS’s Crisis of Competence report.

Yet, while I question portions of this article, I do support a more “educational” business major. A better alternative to a liberal arts approach to business is an immersion in a “Great Books of Business” program. I’ve had success with this approach, especially with my graduate students.

But can this catch on nationally? Are professors prepared to show students both sides of business problems, namely that (gasp!) some people believe that profit is a good thing?

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