A recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education delivers news that’s no news. The headline: “Business Curricula Need a Strong Dose of the Liberal Arts, Scholars Say.” The article goes on to point out what we have long known:
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.
Lest we pat ourselves on the back too quickly, however, the study this article reports notes that instruction in business curricula is generally “more powerful” than that in liberal arts courses. This comes as no surprise in the modern university. There, the traditional humanities have, largely in response to pressures from the professional programs that are simultaneously their competitors and their “feeders,” evolved into mere cultural pass-times or dalliances for professional students. A business student doesn’t care about Shakespeare, but must take Shakespeare. An English department for its very survival, relies upon the business student. And the rigor of the course is, as a result, gutted. Of course, all of this has been helped along by the nihilistic fads in literary criticism that treat words as empty signifiers floating over an abyss of absent signifieds.
Which is why liberal arts colleges qua liberal arts colleges are utterly necessary, even for Lutherans. Or especially for Lutherans. Because the whole intellectual enterprise of Lutheranism is humanistic. Lutherans read Holy Writ like humanists: close readings, focused on the words themselves, their context, their argument, their rhetoric, because they, the Lutherans, think that when Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life,” [John 6.63] He meant it.
So what’s the lesson? Lutheran colleges: out with the professional training and in with the liberal arts!