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In my opinion

Humanities students need to apply their knowledge, too

Why are programs with names like “Team builders” only for business students?


While reading about our university’s participation in Students in Free Enterprise, or SIFE (recently renamed Enactus), it occured to me to wonder why such an endeavour is undertaken only by business students.

The program is described as one in which “leaders in business and higher education to mobilize university students to make a difference in their communities while developing the skills to become socially responsible business leaders” (from Wikipedia).

Consider the projects listed below – and then imagine the alternatives:

“Team Builders” led team-building exercises during a weekend program at the YMCA. Imagine if sociology students tried team-building. I think it might be quite different than the exercises undertaken by business students.

“Junior Tycoons” were high school students presented with a basic business plan. Why not present “Junior Diplomats” with a plan for redesigning recess, based on insights from political science, history, and psychology?

“Budgeting for Mental Health Patients.” How about “Philosophy for Mental Health Patients”?

Enactus projects, which train students to apply their knowledge outside academia and also increase the visibility of business in the outside world, probably contribute to the strangle-hold that business activities and business interests have on the world. So, suggesting that such endeavours be undertaken by humanities and science students as well is more than an exercise in imagination – it’s an identification of responsibility.

But humanities students aren’t offered this kind of engagement. We teach our English students how to appreciate and write poetry, but not how to find a literary agent; we teach them how to appreciate and write drama, but not how to produce a play.

Philosophy students learn to clarify concepts and values, identify hidden assumptions, test for consistency and coherence; psychology students know how our minds and emotions work; sociology students know about people in groups, in cultures and subcultures and countercultures; history students know what hasn’t worked; students of gender studies understand how our society is structured along gender lines. So, although they would make great consultants, we don’t teach them how to write a proposal, how to contract for business, or how to manage a project.

Until we do these things, our humanities and science students will be dependent on business students as go-betweens and as enablers. And since business students, by definition, have profit as their motivator, their purpose, and their goal, there is bound to be a certain amount of unfulfilled potential. Business students are not likely to set up Sociologists, Inc. or History Is Us. Nor are they likely to engage the services of non-business students as consultants.

Peg Tittle is the author of Critical Thinking: An Appeal to Reason (Routledge 2011) and More Shit that Pisses Me Off (Magenta 2012).

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  1. Charles / January 2, 2013 at 12:30

    I agree 100%.

    I would argue though that schools don’t teach business students to apply their knowledge either which is why Enactus (and other similar students groups) are created. What they demonstrate is that students need to create these opportunities for themselves.

    My hope is that sociology, psychology, philosophy students will take initiative and form their own Enactus rather than wait for their schools to do so for them.