Integrating Liberal Arts Into Business at Universities
The world of business is undergoing seismic changes in the face of globalization. More than ever, the liberal arts are relevant for preparing the future generation of business leaders.
Let’s consider supply chain management as an example. The term, which only became a part of the business lexicon about 35 years ago, reflects how the logistics side of managing inventory has been transformed in an era when companies need to procure and market across continents in order to be competitive. Some business schools have responded to this shift by offering bachelor’s degrees in supply chain management. I looked at the course requirements for some of these programs recently and noted the course titles—logistics, sourcing, finance, market research, project management, service management, risk management, environmental management. Granted, this list is based on course titles and not syllabi or lesson plans, but it was hard to see how such specialized business programs—without robust links to the liberal arts—could prepare graduates to enter industry ready to work with intercultural competence and with integrity. For instance, it would be useful for students to know something about the economic, political, and legal systems in China when they need to negotiate rare earth contracts. Or for students to have some insights from anthropology when they’re marketing to different societies in the next big market of Africa.
Students need an interdisciplinary business curriculum—drawing on the liberal arts—to fulfill their professional aspirations and to prepare them to work knowledgably, ethically, and with cultural sensitivity in a global context. Liberal arts disciplines provide exposure to key subjects, from Asian politics to consumer psychology, that help students broaden their view of the world and complement business coursework that cultivates skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork.
Everlasting Knowledge and Skills
The liberal arts matter in a world where the pace of change is relentless. Some developments are barely within our scope of understanding. To return to the example of supply chain management, consider how emerging innovations in robotic technology will likely revolutionize how goods are transported and stored: driverless trucks will replace human operators, and inventory will be stored in warehouses located in dense urban areas where land is expensive, so space must be maximized with narrow aisles and high shelves. But the knowledge and skills imparted by the liberal arts stay with students for a lifetime. Robustly integrating the liberal arts in business programs positions students to reach their professional aspirations despite the surprises they are sure to encounter.
The Teagle Foundation’s commitment to the liberal arts is rooted in our history. Our founder, Walter Teagle, established the foundation in 1944 “to advance the well-being and general good of mankind throughout the world,” with an emphasis on aid to “institutions of higher learning.” Teagle studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Cornell University and went on to become chair of Standard Oil of New Jersey, now the ExxonMobil Corporation. He deeply valued the liberal arts education that he received, viewed it as instrumental to his success in business, and sought to extend its benefits more broadly through the foundation that bears his name.
Liberal Arts Curriculum Integration
As a foundation, we recognize that many business schools are interested in providing their students with a more integrative business education and yet may need resources to bring together faculty from business and the liberal arts for meaningful curricular transformation. In fall 2014, the Teagle Foundation launched Liberal Arts and the Professions to support faculty in redesigning undergraduate business programs that better embed and integrate the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Two main questions drive our consideration for grant proposals under the initiative: What are the substantive ways that your business curricula will differ as a result of a Teagle grant? How will you sustain that curricular redesign beyond the life of the grant? U.S.-based accredited business schools are eligible for this grant opportunity; we encourage collaboration where three to four campus partners come together as a community of practice to discuss their progress and challenges with curricular redesign. We invite full grant proposals based on a review of brief three-to-five-page concept papers; while concept papers are reviewed on a rolling basis, those received by December 1 will receive priority consideration. More information on how we grant is available on our website.
We are grateful to AACSB for its leadership in building momentum for the kind of curricular innovation that we at Teagle believe best serves the needs of undergraduate business students today. Our hope is that such curricular integration will not only have a positive effect on how students in professional fields pursue their future work but will also enrich the liberal arts curriculum itself.
Loni Bordoloi Pazich is program director at The Teagle Foundation, where she is responsible for its grant-making and assessment activities.