Bringing Philosophy and Business Education Together


A new program at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University combines philosophy and other humanities disciplines with a business education. “Integrated Business and Humanities” is a business major that requires its students to philosophy, language, culture, and other humanities courses.

An article about the program that was published at both The Atlantic and The Hechinger Report quotes the director of the program, business school professor Emad Mohammad:

We did the research about what employers are looking for and we kept coming back to the same things: critical thinking, communication, cultural perspective… But the School of Business couldn’t teach these skills. We didn’t have the in-house expertise to teach philosophy and history and English.

The program is also seen as a way of shoring up enrollment in humanities classrooms, which have been declining.

The article’s author, Jon Marcus, writes:

Employers highly value what humanities majors learn in college, focus groups and surveys show. More than nine out of 10 say a job candidate’s capacity for thinking and communicating clearly and solving complex problems is more important than his or her major, according to an AAC&U poll. More than three-quarters favor applicants who understand other cultures.

As the humanities decline, business has become the largest undergraduate major. But a Carnegie Foundation report found that undergraduate business education is narrow and doesn’t challenge students to think creatively or ask important questions.

The article suggests that prospective students show plenty of interest in the humanities, but it is often their parents who put the kibosh on majoring in them, concerned—rightly or wrongly—about future job opportunities and earnings. Anna Moro, a linguistics professor and associate dean of humanities at McMaster, says:

It was the parents who came to the recruitment events who were saying, ‘We’re going to check out nursing or engineering.’… I want students to calm their parents’ fears and say, ‘I’ll take philosophy, but I’ll also take business.’

In addition to the aforementioned article, further information about the program is here and here.

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Kyle
Kyle
3 years ago

This is how our discipline comes to an end. Report

Unknown Philosopher
Reply to  Kyle
3 years ago

How exactly is that?

At the college where I teach (a highly selective public Liberal Arts college in the northeast), the associated business school has a strongly positive attitude about the Liberal Arts generally, and about Philosophy specifically. Several of their faculty themselves come from the Liberal Arts: one majored in Government & Politics at Washington & Lee, and another had concentrations in Fine Arts (sculpting) and Philosophy at Brown. We have a long-standing relationship with school, teaching a required course in business ethics for all of their majors.

I guess I lack the imagination to see how broader efforts at cooperation could be fatal to philosophy.Report

Kyle
Kyle
Reply to  Unknown Philosopher
3 years ago

I suppose that it might not be fatal for the field at selective (read: expensive and privately-endowed) institutions, but us public school kids are caught up in a long march towards “Philosophy” being an adjunct-led field in “Critical Thinking for Finance” and “Ethical Issues in Computing”.

It’s a bit easier to imagine the things that threaten to diminish what inspired you to philosophy in the first place. Report

Unknown Philosopher
Reply to  Kyle
3 years ago

I’m at a very poorly-endowed public school that has managed to remain highly selective and that has also managed to maintain a vibrant Philosophy program. One contributing factor to this, I believe, has been our willingness to see cooperation with other disciplines, including–gasp!–business, as something other than soul-selling.Report

DocF
DocF
Reply to  Unknown Philosopher
3 years ago

I noticed that in what the program included there was no mention of ethics! Critical thinking, etc, is great but where is the moral element?Report

Unknown Philosopher
Reply to  DocF
3 years ago

The list of first-year classes includes Introduction to Ethics. There’s also this statement:

“Graduates of the program will possess sharp critical thinking skills, personal and ethical values, and social and emotional intelligence to help transform communities at home and abroad.”Report

Derek Bowman
3 years ago

At Free Range Philosophers I’ve done two interviews that might be of interest to readers of this story:

1. Ben Jarvis talks about his experience as a philosophy PhD getting an MBA and reflects on the two kinds of education: https://freerangephilosophers.com/2016/09/05/benjamin-jarvis/
2. Amy Leask is an entrepreneur with an M.A. in philosophy from McMaster: https://freerangephilosophers.com/2016/09/19/amy-leask/Report

David Spindle
David Spindle
3 years ago

My department took over teaching business ethics from the business school during my stint there (as a grad student). It was neither an unqualified disaster or success. There were upsides and downsides.

Upsides: it was good for the department’s overall enrollment numbers and coffers. The money we received from handling the course allowed us to fund one or two more additional graduate positions. It also put us in touch with a big segment of the student population that we normally wouldn’t have contact with. This was because every business major was required to take business ethics.

Downsides: the classes were huge and generated a substantial workload. The semester-to-semester rotation of work assignments (i.e. which grad student would assist or teach a section) wasn’t particularly well-managed. Lastly, there didn’t seem to me to be a whole lot of forethought about how to “teach” and/or interact with business majors, who tended to have a different set of concerns than your standard philosophy major. So at the end of the day, I’m not sure whether the business majors who passed through our version of the course got very much out of it. Report

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
3 years ago

So long as disciplinary boundaries are maintained (i.e. so long as the philosophy that people study is actual philosophy, not ‘business philosophy’ or some nonsense) then I can see no problem whatever with students doing some business modules as well and graduating with a ‘philosophy and business’ dual honours degree or something. It is important to be sensitive to concerns that people have about getting jobs; I’d love it if the world worked like it did in my parents’ day (in this respect anyway!) but it doesn’t.

That said – a) I studied BA Philosophy & Politics, MA Political Theory, then wend to work as a management consultant and now work for a big firm as a consultant to financial markets clients, reading a bit of philosophy on the side and b) I am involved in my firm’s graduate hiring practices and we absolutely hire people with straight humanities backgrounds. Such people are in no way viewed as less hireable that people who studied business: in fact I regard ‘business’ as a bit of noddy degree at undergraduate level. To be honest for most people (not me) hard sciences or engineering degrees probably impress more than either humanities or business, but philosophy is certainly as good as any other non-quantitative subject.

PS although we do (somewhat sadly in my view) also look for the now-essential internships and work experience. Report