Thursday, January 20, 2011

Value Of Liberal Arts

This NYTimes article is about a liberal arts MBA that will be offered by Brown and IE in Spain. And as much as FLG is in favor of liberal arts education, he cannot think the idea is anything but idiotic.

FLG doesn't see how a proper liberal arts education can be included as part of vocational training. Sure, they can expand the scope to talk about business and society and whathaveyou, but that's not a liberal arts education -- it'll be glorified Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) courses. And FLG hates CSR because it too often takes on the form of a technocratic, bureaucratic wet dream Utopia where doing well and doing good exist hand and hand. Now, to be clear, FLG doesn't think this is impossible. He thinks it's very possible. The issue is that FLG, as a shareholder, doesn't want his agents, the management of his companies, to substitute their moral and ethical values for his own. Unless management can make a compelling case how the CSR activity is in the direct economic interest of the company, then return the damn money you'd spend on philanthropic enterprises back to the shareholders and let them decide.

But FLG digresses. Two things stuck out in the article. First, this quote from Martha Nussbaum:
Among her own favorite tools for stretching student imaginations are Plato’s dialogues.

“They’re so important in teaching the skills of analysis and argument and critical thinking,” Ms. Nussbaum said. “Plato was the most brilliant dramatizer of the life of an argument there has ever been.”


And then there's this:
Among those cheering the new venture from the sidelines will be Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, at the University of Toronto. Although he heads one of IE’s competitors, Mr. Martin has long been an advocate of bringing liberal arts values into the business school classroom and the corporate boardroom. He is also a vocal critic of the current vogue among educational policy makers to emphasize science, technology, engineering and medicine — the so-called STEM subjects — at the expense of the humanities.

“I have a real worry about STEM-obsessed policies,” Mr. Martin said. “There is a view that if we don’t copy what India and China are doing, they’ll overrun us. We will look back on this as the era where we in the West got scared and flinched.”

For Mr. Martin, a more sophisticated understanding of the underlying issues is no luxury. “The biggest problem in the business world is the limits of representation — for example, hedge fund managers who think their equations describe the economy,” he said.

So true, so true.

This inspired an ugh however:
“Aspiring accountants, financiers or M.B.A.’s who are exposed to Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ (1949) will be better equipped to understand employees,” Mr. Lister wrote.

FLG has read two Miller plays, the two everybody has read Salesman and Crucible, and he finds both of them tremendously overrated, but neither more so than Salesman. This is probably because FLG cannot see Willy as anything other than a whiny little twit. So, maybe it does help MBAs understand their future whiny little twit employees.


Withywindle said...

I saw Brian Dennehy in Salesman; good actor miscast, because he just isn't little.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that the original play was written for a larger Loman. I seem to remember that there was a line in which "walrus" was changed to "shrimp" for a smaller lead. (Caveat lector: This comes from way back in my memory, which is like a junk drawer at the Collyer brothers' apartment.)

The Ancient said...

I think Lee J. Cobb played it on Broadway.

(But I'm getting forgetful.)

David said...

"Salesman" has probably steered hundreds of people away from successful & lucrative careers as sales reps because they were afraid that they'd turn into Willy Loman.

It's been awhile since I've read it, but somewhere in the play it is asserted that for a salesman "there's no rock bottom to life." As examples of people who DO have a rock bottom to life, Miller cits an assembly line worker and a LAWYER.

David said...

A "liberal arts MBA" is likely to be comprised mainly of trendy mush. A better approach would be a serious liberal arts *undergraduate* degree, followed by an MBA...even better, Michael Hammer's proposal for an undergraduate double major in a rigorous liberal arts program AND a hard science or engineering program.

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