Integrating liberal arts and business deemed crucial

Jonathan Schroeder, William A. Kern Professor of Communications, College of Liberal Arts

More than 20 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in the United States are awarded in business, making business, according to the National Center for Education Studies, the most popular college degree. Further, at many colleges and universities, business and liberal arts represent very different paths of study, and business 
students often express little desire to see the inside of the Liberal Arts building.Nevertheless, many business schools are busy re-emphasizing traditional goals of liberal education, including critical thinking, practical reasoning and 
communication skills. 

The drive behind this movement is not new. In 1959, two reports instigated a profound change in business education. These reports, produced by the Carnegie Foundation and the Ford Foundation, urged that business schools move beyond the trade school, practitioner-oriented, anecdotal classroom training. The Carnegie Report argued that “a business education should also develop in a student an inquiring, analytical and searching mind and a code of ethics including honesty, 
integrity and an uncompromising respect for the rights of others.” To gain academic as well as managerial respect and to educate young minds in the business-concerned possibilities of the future, business schools were encouraged to dig deeper into more classical forms of knowledge, including resources from literature, philosophy and psychology. 

Recently, the Carnegie Foundation published Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Professions (2011), a book that makes a new case for integrating liberal education with business studies. So, business schools seem interested in liberal arts, but what role do liberal arts play in a career-focused education? How does a liberal education prepare graduates, many of whom end up working in business? How does research in the liberal arts intersect with the concerns of business disciplines? What is the role of the liberal arts at RIT?

These issues at the intersection of business and the liberal arts are on the minds of many of us. At the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences in Fall 2011, international researchers and educators met for a conference organized by the highly respected Copenhagen Business School. The conference, “Integrating the Humanities and Liberal Arts in Business Education,” discussed successful integration of humanities-based skills and concepts into business school curricula and further presented the benefits of bringing business discipline-based insights into the humanities. 

At the 2012 Academy of Management Conference in Boston, more than 100 Academy members met to discuss ways in which skills from the liberal arts can enhance the potential of business school graduates, expand their capacity to approach and understand problems, think critically and communicate with others. Further, scholarly research at the intersection of philosophy and business demonstrates the importance and necessity of integrating theories, concepts and examples across disciplinary boundaries.

On March 15, RIT will host The Kern Symposium on Liberal Arts and Business, 
exploring the connections between the liberal arts and business disciplines. The goals of the symposium include facilitating an exchange of ideas, sharing best practices and articulating the role of RIT’s College of Liberal Arts in education and research. The symposium will be open to the entire community and will feature external speakers as well as RIT colleagues.

The symposium, supported by the William A. Kern Endowment in Communications, is free and open to the public. More information can be found on the Kern website at

This column presents opinions and ideas on issues relevant to higher education. To suggest an idea for the column, email

Janet Borgerson, 
adjunct professor, 
E. Philip Saunders College of Business