17 April 2011

A Business Major: What is It Good For?

Earlier this spring the University of Rochester where I teach announced that it is inaugurating an undergraduate major in business. (UofR is not alone. At the same time SUNY College at Brockport where Susan teaches is launching a business school.) Many of my colleagues in the Arts and Sciences take what might be called a dim view of this initiative. Proponents of the initiative tend to depict this as typical snottiness on the part of over-educated, left-leaning elites. In case you think that the skepticism is just that, you ought to read this article from The New York Times Magazine. Actual research finds that Business majors study less and less hard than their peers who major in other subjects and, unsurprisingly, they seem to get less from their education as a result.* And then we set them loose to make decisions that impact the lives of others in fundamental ways. And, of course, the article suggests that what the best undergraduate business programs provide is essentially - yes, you guessed it! - a typical liberal arts education in science, social science or humanities.
* One curiosity in the article is the disjunction between the research results that find b-majors to be working less on average and the claims by faculty and administrators in the article that only a minority of their own students fit that profile. I can imagine a set of factors that might differentiate most business students at Radford or Ohio University from the patterns discovered in the research studies. Whether those factors actually are at play is an empirical question. And I am absolutely confident that the business majors at Rochester all will be above average!

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