CONNOLLY: Against 'pre-Comm'
Pre-professional students should not forget the benefits of a well-rounded education
Through my involvement with the First Year Judiciary Committee, I run into many first-year students who are dead set on being lawyers. There is nothing ostensibly wrong with that. As a lawyer, you have the opportunity to do fulfilling work and make a comfortable living.
But why, as a first year, would you consign yourself to one profession instead of exploring the countless opportunities the University offers for both personal and professional development? I would argue that even if you have an idea of a potential future career, you should go through college with an open mind, and pursue anything that interests you. Only then will you be able to make the most of the college experience.
This phenomenon of being “pre-something” — pre-law, pre-Commerce, premed — is, to my knowledge, a relatively new phenomenon. College used to be a place of learning and exploration for all. Now, it seems that the students who seek out a well-rounded education for its own sake form a minority. The heyday of the core curriculum — founded on the principle that every student should exit college well-read and culturally literate, with knowledge of the literature, history, art, philosophy and science that form the basis for human experience — has long since passed. The few colleges that still require students to take a “core” set of classes — Columbia and the University of Chicago come to mind — are often seen as overbearing or backward. Students today who consign themselves to one particular pre-professional track (there are obviously exceptions) see college as a sort of finishing school. College is a place to learn a trade, a place to acquire a specific skill set that will allow you to acquire and succeed at a job.
This belief diminishes the purpose of any university, especially the University of Virginia. Students who enter the University as “pre-Comm” and refuse to expand their intellectual horizons beyond the realm of accounting and business would do well to remember that this school was founded on the idea that learning is not a means to an end, but an end in itself. The purpose of an education is not merely to prepare you for a job. Rather, the purpose is to prepare you for your life, to allow you to read the great texts — the Shakespeares, the Platos, the Aristotles of the world. The purpose is to force you to develop opinions on the great issues of mankind. Where do we come from? Why are we here? It might be easier to come up with answers to your marketing homework set, but I would argue that in the long run, it is much more fulfilling to explore the fundamental questions that define our existence. I believe that everyone, not just those who actively seek out the liberal arts, should consider these questions and these issues.
It is important to remember that you have the rest of your life to find a job, the rest of your life to work for a company, but that you are only in college once (YOCO?). It would be a shame if a single student wasted the opportunities the University offers. I often hear “pre-Comm” students argue that the Commerce School gives you the tools to learn how to do a job. That may be true. And it is certainly true that the Commerce School has graduated thousands of fantastic young men and women who seek to make a positive impact on this planet. But I worry that these practical skills are skills you can attain in the workplace, or even in graduate school, and that students prioritize the acquisition of “hard” skills over the acquisition of knowledge itself.
You can learn how to be a lawyer in law school, a businessman in business school and a doctor in medical school. It is important to take the prerequisite classes if you’re interested in any of these schools, but it is also vital that students take advantage of the opportunities inherent in being an undergraduate student. Freedom of academic exploration is a singular opportunity in the lifetimes of most people. It would be a shame to throw that away.
John Connolly is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Thursdays.