Wednesday, August 20, 2014
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has issued a report that looks like it will be very interesting reading. According to this story from insidehighered.com, the report refers to a "failure of higher education governance" and argues that trustees should play a much more active role in correcting some of the problems now facing higher education. The insidehighered.com story suggests that the report contains a good summary of those problems. One example of interest to this department: there is (says the report) "evidence that self-interest and personal ideologies can drive departmental directions rather than the interest of the students and preparation of citizens. And studies show that there are fields -- such as military history, constitutional history, and diplomatic history -- that are fast disappearing from college curricula." The report calls on trustees to educate themselves and ask questions like this: "Does the history department ... have expertise and offer coursework on the Founders, the American Revolution, and the Constitution?" Well, we at least could answer that question with a loud "yes!" If , as James Madison suggests, "all governments rest on opinion," the disappearance of courses on the Constitution and related issues does not bode well for republican self-government.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that some MBA programs are trying to tack on a smattering of liberal education. Here's an article that explains the idea and why the "tack on" approach can't work. There is a better way. Here is Peter Lawler writing on the website, MindingTheCampus.
A Simple Fix For the M.B.A.
By Peter Augustine Lawler
Employers tend to complain that the graduates of American universities are skilled in solving particular problems but "often miss the big picture." This complaint rings true for colleges graduates in general these days, but it's an even larger issue for M.B.A. students, who hope to ultimately ascend to leadership positions in a wide array of businesses. Accordingly, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, M.B.A. programs are beginning to introduce philosophy into their curricula.
One example: A course in "Nobel Thinking," which exposes students to world-changing ideas generated by members of our cognitive elite. The course is taught by a professor of economics and discusses transformative economic ideas like "adverse selection." It seems, however, that only an economist could think that an insight into "what happens when buyers and sellers have access to different information" changed the world. Nobel-winning economists do, in fact, have big-picture abstract thoughts. But they shouldn't be confused with the thoughts of political or corporate leaders. Adam Smith and Karl Marx--less technical than political economists--did have thoughts that changed the world. But they didn't win Nobel Prizes and so don't show up in the course.
A liberally educated person thinks here of Socrates's criticism of the sophists, who thought of all education as technical, as ways of acquiring wealth and power. Socrates argues that no one in a real position of leadership can succeed if he or she thinks that low. The "utility maximizer" of the sophists and today's economists is really an abstraction. There's no real person who consistently thinks and acts that way. Real persons are families, friends, citizens, creatures, and responsible leaders, in addition to being productive individuals.
So the Socratic injunction to know yourself is really about thinking less abstractly and more concretely or personally. One management professor, seemingly in this spirit, gave her students "a nonstop, 14-day discovery of yourself." The take-away for the students, however, was the irreducible variety of interpretations and "palpable anxiety" in the face of ambiguity. They appeared not to have made the progress described by Plato in Socratic dialogues toward discovering "who I am and what I'm supposed to do." Without such personal progress, the best way to take out the anxiety of ambiguity is to lose oneself in merely technical goals.
It may well take more than 14 days to discover oneself. And a whirlwind tour of art, fiction, and meditation can't make up for deep deficiencies in one's upbringing and education. That tour seems to leave the impression that we're all detached tourists in a multicultural world that offers no solid moral or intellectual guidance.
Big ideas and self-knowledge can't really be effective add-ons to M.B.A. programs. But who can deny that leaders who hope to be more than "specialists without spirit" need them?
There's an obvious solution. M.B.A. programs should only accept students who have flourished in excellent and relatively traditional "humanities" majors such as literature, philosophy, or political science. They should not require that their students have taken any business courses at all. That technical training is what the M.B.A. is for.
Not only that, M.B.A. programs should do what they can to encourage undergraduate programs to focus on "the leadership virtues" such as generosity, magnanimity, and prudence, as well as "the service virtues" such as charity and compassion. There is, of course, no substitute for actually doing the leisurely reading in philosophical, religious, and literary masterpieces required to pick up the habits of genuine reflection.
The last presidential campaign was graced by two candidates who spoke eloquently and had an admirable sense of personal responsibility of a leader. Mitt Romney had an undergraduate literature major, which was an indispensable prelude to his acquisition of the professional M.B.A. and law degrees. Barack Obama had excellent undergraduate instruction in political philosophy and literature (he knows all about T.S. Eliot!) at Occidental and Columbia as an indispensable prelude to his law degree.
Undergraduate business degrees devote too much time to PowerPoint presentations, collaborative projects, and narrowly technical problem solving. They seem to do everything they can to divert the student from thinking about himself or herself as a particular person. They're not about cultivating the souls of leaders. And that lack of cultivation, it's pretty darn clear, can't be remedied "at the M.B.A. level."
There's a simple remedy for the struggle M.B.A. programs have in getting students to think big yet personally and beyond "the bottom line": a rather old-fashioned undergraduate liberal arts education. And recovering the proper relationship between liberal and technical education for emerging leaders is one way among many of thinking clearly again about what undergraduate education is for.
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and International Studies at Berry College.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
For the 2014-2015 academic year, the Academy Vivarium Novum in Rome is offering ten full tuition scholarships for University students (18-24 years old) of any part of the world. The scholarships will cover all of the costs of room, board, teaching and didactic materials for courses to be held from on the grounds of the Academy’s campus at Rome. The goal of the Academy is to achieve a perfect command of both Latin and Greek through a total immersion in the two languages in order to master without any hindrances the texts and concepts which have been handed down from the ancient times, middle ages, the Renaissance period and modern era, and to cultivate the humanities in a manner similar to the Renaissance humanists. All the classes will be conducted in Latin, except for Greek classes which will be conducted in ancient Greek.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Friday, April 25, 2014
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, Wendy Ruderman, will be giving a talk on her new book (co-authored with Barbara Laker), Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love. The talk is on Thursday, April 24 at 7pm in the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, and is free and open to the public. Copies of the book will be on sale at the talk.
Wendy Ruderman has a master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked at several media organizations, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY-TV and 91FM, the Trenton Times, the Associated Press, and the Bergen Record,before joining the Philadelphia Daily News in 2007. In 2010 she, along with Daily News colleague Barbara Laker, won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism for their series "Tainted Justice," on police corruption in Philadelphia. Two years later she became Police Bureau chief for the New York Times before returning to the Daily News in June 2013. Wendy and Barbara Laker teamed up once again to write Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love, based on their award-winning series. The book was published by HarperCollins earlier this year.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Quite a few history and political science majors gave presentations in the College of Arts and Sciences 2014 Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Symposium this week: Lindsey Richey (on James Madison and British Commercial Policy in the Making of the U.S. Constitution, 1783-89), Kelsey Golec (The History and Development of the Ohio Juvenile Justice System), Zachary Hoffman (Frederick Douglass and the Ideals of Manhood), Joseph Griffith (the 'Almost Chosen People': Lincoln's Use of Scripture and Biblical Allusions in the Gettysburg Address & the Second Inaugural), and Johanna Mateo (Latin America: The Impact of Spanish Colonial Rule). That gives a pretty good idea of the variety of interests that students pursue in the department. Congratulations to all you participants and the organizers of the symposium. For more information and even some photos, see here.