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Taking Sides: Should Brown have a business degree?


Brown is not the Wharton School of Business, nor does the administration want Brown to emulate Wharton — but our college should rethink this decision. Having transferred from Wharton, I know what makes an undergraduate business program, the advantages of this experience and the drawbacks borne by a more tailored education. In its quest to maintain the integrity of Brown’s liberal arts ethos, the University has shunned pre-professionalism and patent attempts to move toward such an approach.

But Brown is also distinguished by its progressive attitude and willingness to accept change in the face of increasing workplace complexities, evolving scholastic needs and malleable student preferences. A business degree is not solely practical for aspiring investment bankers and corporate raiders. Given the robust interest in entrepreneurship at Brown, the utility of understanding corporations that surround us and the growing competition in the labor market, Brown should furnish its offerings with a business degree.

Among the arguments against undergraduate business education — and pre-professionalism in general — is the contention that students should spend their college careers becoming well-rounded scholars. Stalwart defenders of strict liberal arts curricula believe these four years should give us a broad understanding of many disciplines while allowing us to cultivate specialized knowledge through one or two majors. In their support of this philosophy and a rejection of more career-driven paths, they feel that a solid grasp of several subject areas is compromised by committing to a pre-professional track. This is not true — many undergraduate business programs require students to enroll in classes unrelated to their majors. At Penn, for example, Whartonites must also take a healthy dose of School of Arts and Sciences courses. Furthermore, business education is fundamental to being a well-educated individual. We should know how the organizations around us function, whether they be hospitals, non-profits, corporate conglomerates, retail franchises or even universities such as Brown itself.

Accessing actual business professors and classes through which students can learn more about investment choices, capital budgeting and management decisions does not attenuate one’s understanding of the world. On the contrary, these opportunities and outlets would enhance our wisdom and abilities to digest and analyze current affairs. Even humanities concentrators should understand the mechanics of quantitative easing and incipient implications for future interest rates. For the sake of personal edification, Brown students would be well-served to familiarize themselves with accounting, financial markets, corporate law and firm behavior. These skill sets should be tested in contexts more structured and practical than economic theory classes. Whether we proceed to finance, law, medicine, engineering, charity or the arts, supporting business education with a business degree would reinforce Brown’s reputation for embracing students’ needs and producing adaptable, well-rounded alums.

Elizabeth Fuerbacher ’14 enjoys Brown but will always defend the Wharton stereotype of hyper-ambitious undergrads hoping to be the next Carl Icahn or Donald Trump. She can be reached at