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To the core
Encouraging business students to take up the liberal arts
At freshman orientation, incoming students of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management are often asked whether they would like to major or minor in a subject offered through the College of Arts and Sciences in addition to pursuing, as required, a subject area of management. Usually a preponderance of hands goes up, but once academic reality sets in fewer students (roughly 35 percent) avail themselves of this opportunity. One explanation is that there’s too little room in the crowded business school curriculum for casting deeply into the liberal arts.
Now, the Carroll School is unveiling a revised core curriculum that will open up new possibilities for finance majors who take a liking to French, or any other management students who want to venture far into the arts and sciences. They will be able to opt out of one or two core requirements in the Carroll School if they declare a minor or major in A&S.
This is the first extensive restructuring of the school’s core curriculum in more than 30 years, and the first students affected by the changes will be those who enter as freshmen in fall 2012—that is, the Class of 2016. A review of the modifications will be conducted after three years, during the 2015–16 academic year.
The idea for the overhaul began with discussions among Carroll School leaders about how undergraduate business education is best understood as “a blend of management training and liberal arts learning,” as dean Andy Boynton puts it. They wondered how they could not only lessen the encumbrances to broader learning but also point their students in that general direction.
Boynton asked Richard Keeley, associate dean for undergraduates, and associate professor of finance Darren Kisgen to spearhead a curriculum review committee that recruited 10 others from among the faculty and met throughout the past academic year. The committee arrived at an approach that relies primarily on incentives for students to dig into an arts-and-sciences subject while still carving out a specialty or concentration in management. The initial revision entails no new courses at the Carroll School, although assistant dean for curriculum Ethan Sullivan expects to see courses added later “in the spirit of integration with the liberal arts.” He cites the possibility of classes linking entrepreneurship with social justice.
As Boynton sees it, the time was ripe for a fresh inspection of the core, in part because the caliber of Carroll School students, as inferred from standardized test scores and other measures, has risen markedly in recent years. He also points out that many corporate leaders today are emphasizing the importance of creativity, critical thinking, and related traits that might thrive with exposure to the liberal arts.
“The world is different now than it was 30 years ago. The students are different. Business is different. And so we should be different, too,” Boynton explains.
That view is gaining a measure of traction in higher education. This past June, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching released a book-length study, Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession, which finds that undergraduate business education is often too narrow, does little to help students make sense of the world and their place in it, and fails to challenge them to question assumptions and think creatively. “Business majors typically experience the liberal arts and sciences in ways that are weak or episodic,” the authors write.
Kisgen, the Carroll School review committee’s co-chair, said Boston College has increasingly been wary of cranking out “one-dimensional business students” and that the revamped core builds on a tradition of accenting professional education with liberal arts.
Devised largely in the late 1970s, Boston College’s current management core includes 14 requirements ranging from business law to marketing and from finance to organizational behavior. Under the new core, Carroll School students with an A&S major will be entitled to forgo any two of those requirements, excluding three courses that will remain, in a sense, the core of the core. Those are Statistics, Financial Accounting, and Portico, a three-credit course for freshmen that focuses largely on ethical concerns.
According to scenarios presented in a review committee report, an accounting student with a philosophy major might bypass the core Marketing course and Computers in Management; a finance student with a mathematics major might leave aside Operations Management and Organizational Behavior; and an information systems student with an art history major could do the same with Finance and Managerial Accounting. Similarly, students who chose to minor in an A&S subject could opt out of one Carroll core requirement.
“Students already want to do this. What we’ve done is open up some space for them to go ahead,” offering them encouragement to take on the added responsibilities of the A&S major or minor, says Kisgen.
In addition to these academic carrots, the Carroll School has also tossed in a few sticks. For instance, all Carroll School students will have to take four elective courses in A&S (one more than currently stipulated).
Although the faculty overwhelmingly voted for the plan this past May, there were at least a couple of professors who felt strongly that the school should not “tamper with the core” and consequently reduce the common body of knowledge, notes associate professor Stephanie Greene, a review committee member who teaches business law and directs the Carroll School Honors Program. Greene, however, joined the majority. If there’s any dilution of the management core, she says, “it’s a small concession for a greater purpose” of encouraging broader learning.
Core changes for Class of 2016
Triple concentrations are eliminated. Students can still carry the course load of three concentrations. They just won’t receive the third badge.
Credit requirement to graduate goes up from 114 to 120. This is in line with Arts and Sciences and adds two more courses.
Elective A&S course requirement rises from three to four. In addition, AP credits can no longer be applied toward this total.
Incentives to major and minor in A&S. Students with an A&S major may opt out of two CSOM core courses; students with an A&S minor may opt out of one. Some CSOM courses (e.g., Statistics) are excluded from this equation.
New math requirement bucket. AP credits notwithstanding, all students must take at least one math course from a list that includes such offerings as Math for Management, Multivariate Calculus, and Econometric Methods.