ALJASSAR: Brain drain

The Commerce School diminishes the importance of liberal arts pursuits

The McIntire School of Commerce attracts hundreds of undergraduate applicants each year, and understandably so; high job placement rates and high starting salaries are attractive, particularly in today’s insecure economic climate.

But I want to offer reasons why first and second years interested in business should reconsider attending the Commerce School.

First, studying commerce is not necessary for success in business. Each year, investment banking and consulting giants such as J.P. Morgan and Bain recruit students with liberal arts backgrounds. This recruiting season, J.P. Morgan aims to hire more humanities students than it has in previous years. Such students are valued for their analytical abilities — intangibles that cannot be cultivated through business programs, which emphasize technical skills through business coursework.

Wall Street Journal contributor Melissa Korn writes that corporate recruiters fear that undergraduate business programs “focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting.” Additionally, “[such programs] don’t develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal arts courses.”

A liberal arts degree, not a pre-professional commerce program, is best able to cultivate the qualities Korn discusses. Moreover, the technical knowledge needed for a job in finance, for example, is often taught through on-the-job training. Hence, studying the liberal arts can be as conducive to success in the business world as a structured, technical education from McIntire. After all, legendary financier Carl Icahn majored in philosophy.

Further, and more importantly, studying commerce may not be fulfilling to a student who seeks intellectual value in his or her undergraduate experience.

Commerce is not an intellectual pursuit; because of its pre-professional nature, it lacks the intellectual richness offered by humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. While liberal arts students explore academic problems in classics, linguistics and physics, commerce students are intellectually circumscribed by the limiting structure and technical nature of the Commerce School. On an intellectual level, studying corporate finance just isn’t the same as exploring Greek literature, linguistic relativity or quantum theory.

McIntire does have an advantage over peer undergraduate business schools such as Wharton, at the University of Pennsylvania, and Stern, at New York University, in that McIntire is a two-year rather than a four-year program. This structure permits more intellectual exploration for students interested in commerce. Nevertheless, students seeking an intellectual undergraduate experience may not be satisfied with vocational McIntire prerequisites such as COMM 2010: “Introduction to Financial Accounting” and COMM 2020: “Introduction to Management Accounting”.

If fewer students were to attend the Commerce School, the University would benefit as a whole. There’s a massive brain drain at the University: too many talented students abandon their academic interests for the pre-professional Commerce School.

More than 300 students comprise each undergraduate class at McIntire. That’s more than 300 students each year who have the potential to make great contributions to the humanities and sciences. I’ve had too many friends tell me that they’d like to forego their passions in English literature or astronomy for what they consider to be a less risky route at McIntire. A fancy trade school, the McIntire School of Commerce is a drain on academia and the liberal arts undergraduate experience at the University.

This isn’t to say that McIntire is the wrong choice for everyone. For business-savvy students who place less importance on an intellectually invigorating undergraduate experience, McIntire may be the right choice. But to the first year who’s passionate about exploring political theory yet feels pressured to enter a pre-professional program, I ask that you strongly think about your decision to pursue McIntire.

Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Fridays.

Published December 6, 2013 in Opinion

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