Crescit cum commercio civitas: Seize the day
In 2007, the Robert Day School (RDS) of Economics and Finance was established in recognition of a $200 million gift from Robert Day ’65, former Chair of Claremont McKenna College’s Board of Trustees. It has been described as the single largest donation to an American liberal arts college. It has also been described as a threat to the goal of a liberal arts education.
The RDS offers undergraduate majors in Economics and Economics-Accounting as well as a Master’s Program in Finance. It also offers the Robert Day Scholars Program, which is divided into two categories: the BA Program and the BA/ MA Program. At this time, only CMC students have the option to select between BA and BA/MA options, while students from other campuses may apply for the BA/MA Program. The BA Program provides students of all disciplines with an introduction to and a curriculum tailored around courses in finance, accounting and organizational behavior/leadership. The BA/MA Program focuses more on finance and allows students to take graduate courses to achieve a Master’s degree by the time of graduation. The application deadline was Friday, February 15.
One more thing: all BA and BA/MA Scholars receive a $15,000 scholarship during senior year.
That last point is what has generated some concern amongst professors on the Kravis side of campus (geographically speaking; not to be confused with “Kravis-like” professors).
Some worry that the RDS and the Robert Day Scholars Program in particular may change CMC from being a genuine liberal arts college to being more of a specialized, pre-professional school. If I am a student majoring in philosophy, literature, or religious studies, for example, I have an incentive to pursue the Robert Day BA Scholar Program so that I can receive $15,000 to help me pay for my education. That means, however, that I now have to take courses in finance and accounting – subjects I would not have otherwise pursued – instead of taking upper level courses in my respective major. The concern of professors is obvious: CMC may no longer be focused on developing minds, but on developing careers instead.
Such concern is indicative of a pressing controversy in higher education. On January 29, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory chided liberal arts courses offered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, saying “If you want to take gender studies, that’s fine… But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”
But this is not only a recent problem. Author and recent Athenaeum speaker William Deresiewicz noted in 2008 that this trend of focusing on careers is not limited solely to public officials, but to the atmosphere of educational institutions as well. “The liberal arts university is becoming the corporate university, its center of gravity shifting to technical fields where scholarly expertise can be parlayed into lucrative business opportunities.” Universities and colleges seem to be forgetting, according to Deresiewicz, that the “true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.”
It thus comes as no surprise that some CMC professors may be concerned that the Robert Day Scholars Program – which emphasizes pre-professional skills and career development – may detract from the goal of a liberal arts college. They worry that the Program may change CMC permanently and not necessarily for the better.
Seize the Day
I believe these concerns are justified. After all, the RDS Program may detract from the well-roundedness of CMC’s education by shifting focus and students towards the path of technical education.
But I believe these concerns can easily be ameliorated as long as we do not act rashly.
Firstly, the Robert Day Scholars Program curriculum in- cludes philosophy classes such as “Moral and Political Issues” and “Ethical Theory.” At the very least, there is some effort to ensure that there is not solely a focus on technical education. Furthermore, the Program is still being developed, and can potentially be reformed to address grievances.
Secondly, we have a President-Elect who understands the value and power of a liberal arts education, and who has already taken time to meet with department heads to understand potential concerns. Even if the current landscape is worrisome for the liberal arts at CMC, it definitely helps to have a president who has spearheaded the development of interdisciplin- ary courses, has won a Distinguished Teacher Award, and has extensive experience in academia. I would say the future looks rather bright.
Thirdly, we focus on learning, and we focus on doing – but more importantly than either is that we focus on “learning for the sake of doing.” I used to think of this motto as just an empty slogan to distinguish CMC from other liberal arts colleges for attracting applications. I now understand that CMC combines the best of both worlds. We develop minds and creative ways of thinking by ensuring that students take courses in philosophy, literature, government, history, etc. But we do so with an eye toward the future, so that we can apply the skill of critical thinking to any and all of our future endeavors, whether it be in the realm of academia, politics, gender studies, economics, or finance.
The RDS and the RDS Program offers another avenue for students to achieve that end. RDS Dean Brock Blomberg notes this on the school’s website, saying that the RDS provides the opportunity for technical learning “in a liberal arts setting.” Does this mean that a student may not take as many upper-division courses in their respective major as they otherwise would? Yes. But this also means that students can still learn about literature, gender studies, and philosophy – the liberal arts – while simultaneously gaining pre-professional skills that allow them to strike a balance between developing their mind and career that will serve them in the future.
CMC has reached a middle-ground, a sweet spot, between the overzealous public official concerned with jobs and the academic concerned with minds. We have become the practical liberal arts college. We have ambition counteracting ambition. We have an opportunity to seize the Day.