Johann Neem: “Abolish the Business Major”

Neem 1It is hard to argue with Western Washington University historian Johann Neem on this point.  The business major is an “anti-intellectual” degree program that should have “no place in colleges.” Why? Neem develops his thoughts in his new book What’s the Point of College?: Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform.  In an essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Neem argues that business majors should be abolished because:

1. Business majors earn just as much money as liberal arts majors.

2. Business degrees do not teach the skills that employers value.

Here is a taste of his piece:

Ultimately, then, the reason to abandon business degrees is because college is not for anything and everything. A college graduate ought to be a different kind of person than someone who did not attend college. The issue is not just skills, but character. It is not about being for or against business, but rather about ensuring the specific kinds of education that a college degree should represent. A good college education offers access to the knowledge requisite to be a thoughtful interpreter of the world, fosters the academic skills necessary to develop meaningful interpretations on one’s own, and cultivates intellectual virtues. In other words, college is defined by its content — by the kinds of things that one ought to think about.

The business major is for students who want a college degree without a college education. The philosopher Tal Brewer has written that the very notion of business school is an “oxymoron.” The word “scholar” derives from the Greek word for leisure. Colleges are places where people step aside from the world of need — from the world of business — to engage in reflection. “Devoted to discussion and thought unfolding under its own internal demands,” a college cannot with integrity offer “training for the sort of life that has no place for such thought.” Business schooling is “a scholé of the negation of scholé.”

Business is an activity that we engage in to achieve other goods. A college graduate must be educated to think about those goods thoughtfully and critically, especially because markets are cultural institutions, shaped by what we value. But the very existence of the business major teaches students that the end of business is business. In reality, each good or service has its own distinct purposes, practices, and virtues.

Read the rest here.  Someone had to say it.

4 thoughts on “Johann Neem: “Abolish the Business Major”

  1. I read the book on John’s recommendation. Very much agree with his thesis. He says it’s not too late for reform, but I wonder. Almost all our current woes are due to a lack of a liberal education on the part of influencers. Making money cannot be our most important goal in life. Isn’t this basic Christian teaching?

    We need to return education into a public good instead of a market based commodity.


  2. One can say this of virtually every vocational major, including education. My former university’s College of Arts and Science has no business major, but it recently created a joint business minor with the School of Management, simply to meet demand. Take out vocational majors, and higher ed renrollments would shrink exponentially.


  3. Back when Babylon-5 was on the air and JMS (the guy behind it) was touring SF conventions promoting B5, he used to tell some horror stories about what it’s like to work in the entertainment industry and the difficulty of maintaining creative control.

    Most every one of them involved being overridden by a Twentysomething executive who began his sentences with “I’M AN M.B.A. AND…”


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