Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Abolish the Business Major: Anti-intellectual Degree Programs Have No Place In Colleges

Chronicle of Higher Education Review: Abolish the Business Major: Anti-intellectual Degree Programs Have No Place in Colleges, by Johann N. Neem (Western Washington University; author, What’s the Point of College?: Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform (Johns Hopkins University Press Aug. 13, 2019)):

PointBusiness is now the largest undergraduate major in the United States. On the face of it, that seems rational. Declining public funding has made college more expensive and has forced students to think about their education as an economic investment. Colleges, in turn, treat students as customers.

Yet the growth of the business major inflicts a significant cost on colleges and the students they serve. In an era in which calls to reform higher education are rampant, eliminating the undergraduate business major is one simple reform that would dramatically benefit both colleges and their students. While this change would not require the kind of disruption reformers sometimes seek, it would improve student learning outcomes and refocus colleges on their core mission.

Many of the students choosing to major in business and related degrees presumably believe it will lead to higher salaries. Policy makers, too, have started to evaluate majors — and even colleges — by their graduates’ salaries. There are good reasons to question the legitimacy of this exercise. As the former Rochester Institute of Technology president Bill Destler put it, measuring colleges by graduates’ salaries “falsely equates a quality education with gainful employment upon graduation.” But even if we accept future salaries as justification for certain degree programs, does the business major perform as undergraduates expect? ...

The evidence suggests there is no reason to believe majoring in the liberal arts and sciences will have a negative impact on earning potential. Indeed, majoring in the arts and sciences may actually improve graduates’ prospects. According to an AAC&U study, employers overwhelmingly desire college students with a liberal education, both for the kinds of knowledge and perspectives such an education offers and because of the higher-end skills it develops. ...

Undergraduate business programs are anti-intellectual in an institution whose purpose is intellectual. They do not necessarily lead to higher salaries; they produce lower student-learning outcomes; and they are ultimately in tension with the ethical and intellectual purposes of collegiate education. That is why, at the end of the day, there is no justification for undergraduate business majors.

Chronicle of Higher Education Review:  Business Schools Have No Business in the University, by Steven Conn (Miami University):

By any of the metrics used by the folks over in central administration, business schools are a great success story. Enrollments have swelled since the financial meltdown as undergraduates pound on the doors to get in; while graduate programs in the arts and sciences are forced to contract, MBA programs continue to pop up. Most importantly, the donor money just keeps on coming. The business school at the University of Chicago became the Booth Chicago School of Business after David Booth dropped a whopping $300 million to have his name emblazoned on the building, and that was in 2008, while the rest of the country was reeling.

Yet there is something more than a little Oz-like about those B-school palaces, and I say that not just as a jealous and jaundiced historian who works on the deferred-maintenance end of campus. Many of us in the arts and sciences simply don’t believe that teaching business techniques constitutes the real work universities ought to do. We may not quite believe in the disinterested search for truth the way our predecessors once did, but we bristle at the idea that a university ought to promote profit-making as a goal unto itself. ...

The fault for this does not lie with the business schools alone. Universities looking at what has gone on inside their B-schools have never quite had the courage of their curricular convictions to impose what they believed constituted a genuinely rigorous set of requirements, for fear of offending business employers. And business leaders themselves, having pushed for the creation of the schools in the first place, have never been able to agree on what they wanted business students to learn. Perhaps they never really quite cared. ...

It is hard to shake the conclusion that business schools have largely failed — even on their own terms, much less on other, broader social ones. For all their bold talk about training tomorrow’s business leaders, as institutions they have largely been followers. "In reviewing the course of American business education over the past fifty years," wrote one observer, "one is struck by its almost fad-like quality." That was in 1957. Despite their repeated emphasis on innovation and "outside the box thinking" business schools exhibit a remarkable conformity and sameness. Don’t take my word for it. That Porter and McKibbin study from 1988 found "a distressing tendency for schools to avoid the risk of being different ... A ‘cookie cutter mentality’ does not seem to be too strong a term to describe the situation we encountered in a number of schools." Finally, while honest people can disagree over whether American business is better off for having business schools, they have provided scant evidence that they have done much to transform business into something more noble than mere money-making. Indeed, by the late 20th century, they stopped pretending they could.

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


Vocational subjects like business, accounting, marketing - and even law - should not be undergraduate majors and are a waste of a "college" education, the point of which should be to produce well-rounded, "educated" individuals. They should either be left for graduate study (as is the case with medicine and law in this country) or taught in vocational programs that don't masquerade (and deceive students and their parents) as providing a college degree. Having taught in law school, I can attest that business majors are generally the least able to think and write clearly and that my best students have been those who majored in "impractical" things like Classics and philosophy.

Posted by: marcus | Aug 31, 2019 7:11:46 AM

"Many of us in the arts and sciences simply don’t believe that teaching business techniques constitutes the real work universities ought to do. "

So universities should not evolve, but should remain psuedo-Renaissance-like and teach nothing but virtually useless things to children of wealthy families? I guess some people still think the only purpose of a college degree is for social signalling amongst the 1%.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Aug 30, 2019 3:46:12 AM

There are some proposals from left-wing idiots that are so incredibly stupid that I don't know where to start, and I could go on a long time. This is one of them.

Posted by: Woody | Aug 29, 2019 9:44:30 AM

What a fine and correct article! Bravo!

Posted by: Ron B Liebermann | Aug 28, 2019 9:43:06 AM

What about law?

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Aug 28, 2019 4:10:53 AM


Actually the tension and discomfort of teaching pure business principles purely for the benefit of business too lazy to do it themselves has been a point of contention in the American university since the founding of HBS as a program separate and apart from their economics department.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 27, 2019 7:52:28 AM

If so, then Universities should abolish schools for medicine, law, agriculture (that Lincoln was a real anti-intellectual), public administration, engineering .... That leaves us with ... the University of Bologna in 1088?

Posted by: Jim | Aug 27, 2019 7:15:00 AM