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Business degrees worry A&L faculty

Joe Trombello | Monday, November 3, 2003

Nearly one-third of Notre Dame undergraduates choose to major in the Mendoza College of Business, a fact that troubles some Arts and Letters faculty who see the emphasis of undergraduates on business as a factor that may impede an academic, liberal arts education.

Arts and Letters views

In his 2003 Dean’s Report, Mark Roche, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, expressed concern about the number of Notre Dame undergraduates – 32 percent – who choose to major in business, as compared to 7 percent of undergraduates who enroll in business at the top 20 universities

“The University has rightly expressed concern about the high percentage of Notre Dame undergraduates majoring in business … this high percentage is hardly compatible with a vision of Notre Dame as a Catholic liberal arts university,” he wrote.

Likewise, Robert Norton, chair of the department of German Languages and Literature, believes that the emphasis among Notre Dame students on a business degree runs contrary to the notion of a liberal arts education.

“The general tendency [of a lack of an intellectual life outside of the classroom may] reflect the increased number of students who study business as an undergraduate,” he said. “One-third of students are engaged in a course of study intended to prepare them specifically for some [career] – this is quite contrary to the spirit and tradition of a liberal arts education,” he said.

From 1991-2000, only 0.7 percent of Notre Dame undergraduates majoring in business went on for a doctoral degree, a percentage much lower than the 6.1 percent of undergraduates throughout all Notre Dame colleges that sought Ph.D.s. The trend of fewer business students seeking Ph.D.s than the general population holds true among other top 20 undergraduate universities as well, as 3.4 percent of students majoring in business attended doctoral level programs, in comparison with the 11.4 percent of total students who sought doctoral degrees.

The business response

William Nichols, associate dean of the Mendoza College of Business, said that business graduates often receive lucrative job offers in the corporate world, which may explain the nationwide trend of low percentages of Ph.D.-seeking business students.

Nichols also said that those who believe business to be a subject that does not provide a strong liberal arts education are “misinformed.” He stressed that business courses examine many of the same questions and issues as arts and letters but the context differs.

“The majority of classes that business students [take] are arts and letters,” he said. “It would be a mistake to think that classes in the business school do not provide a liberal arts education.”

Nichols said that he does not believe business students to be any less intellectual or less academically engaged than peers from other University colleges.

“I don’t think that business students are different from other people – they are curious about the world, regardless of their major. Notre Dame students are bright, and bright students are curious about life issues,” he said.