EDITORIAL: Arts vs. business

There has been a lot of talk on campus, specifically in the pages of this newspaper, about the equality of the colleges of Villanova University. Nowhere is this clearer than in the ongoing feud between students of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the students of the Villanova School of Business.

Although not true across the board, arts students seem to think that business students get away with taking easier core classes and look down on the other schools. Business students think that arts students won’t get jobs and are really just jealous of the glistening Bartley Hall facilities.

But putting prejudices, rivalries and stereotypes aside, the general attitudes of the two schools represent the two current yet sometimes contradictory purposes of higher education today: getting a job versus getting an education.

On one side, the Villanova School of Business epitomizes a university’s role in cultivating a talented workforce. To this end, the university facilitates networking opportunities, schedules interviews and connects the population it’s educating with the top employers.

On the opposite end, the principles of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences align with more traditional university goals. These include educating students in a wide discipline of subjects and promoting intellectual exploration and moral understanding.

Today’s university represents a confluence of purposes, and Villanova is no exception. On the one hand, a university serves as a way to prepare a workforce, generate revenue and fulfill research grants – all practical goals. However, education has traditionally been about bypassing practical pursuits to think in new ways, challenging dominant ideas and becoming well-rounded in many disciplines, not just becoming knowledgeable in a specific skill set.

Can these coexist? Up to now they have, but this may be changing.

In her recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, Harvard President Drew Faust notes that there are twice as many bachelor’s degrees awarded in business than in any other subject area. College is expensive,

and it’s a lot riskier to study philosophy without its guaranteed post-grad income than it is to major in finance and have a job lined up by the time senior year rolls around.

But with today’s economy, the business track isn’t always synonymous with a job. So will students come to appreciate college beyond its instrumental, career-building worth? Will they value education intrinsically? Or will the instrumental mentality become even more extreme, with college itself falling behind to community college and vocational schools?

And even when business degrees do lead to jobs, it’s now apparent that industry leaders need training beyond crunching numbers. Wall Street’s pure numeric greed could be curbed by ethics classes – business ethics and otherwise, as well as forays into arts disciplines.

While business and arts students like to push each other’s buttons, the school’s unique mentalities are not mutually exclusive and in fact compliment one another.

The face of this university and all universities may change as students’ priorities do, but for now, the differing priorities of Villanova students are as old as higher education itself.