Business major inches closer to reality

Illustration by Ambreen Khan (C’22).

By Richard Pryor III
Executive Staff

In his speech at the Launching of a New Year, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell, in a list of things that “we ought to be doing,” announced that “this year the college faculty will determine whether it is time – I believe it is – to go from a Business minor to a Business major.”

The creation of a business major requires the approval of the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences. Classics professor Stephanie McCarter and assistant dean for business education Gwendolyn Whitfield chair the faculty working group appointed by Dean of the College Terry Papillon that will present options for a major to the faculty.

According to McCarter, there is no set date as to when a presentation might be made, but there is a hope amongst some that an initial presentation to the faculty will be made by the end of the academic year.

The other members of the working group are economics professor Aaron Elrod, biology professor Deborah McGrath, math professor Emily Puckette, Spanish professor Stephen Raulston (C’81), math professor Matthew Rudd, and Babson Center director David Shipps (C’88).

McCarter described the work of the group as “brainstorming the possibilities” for a potential business major that will be unique to Sewanee, drawing on the characteristics of the University. She added that at the very least, the faculty “need to entertain the possibility” of a business major.

However, some members of the faculty are apprehensive.

In an interview with The Purple, Jim Peters, professor of philosophy, said that he was “inclined to be against” the creation of the major, adding that he was “skeptical but not close-minded.” One of his major concerns is the potential size of the major due to the perceived need of parents and students for graduates to be employable after graduation.

“If we get a Business major, we could see 100-150 students out of the approximately 500 students in a class want to major in business,” Peters said. “If you have approximately 200 majors between two years, that has to draw resources from other departments.”

Peters e-mailed the entire faculty in early September, imploring them to “approach this issue in a civil and rational manner, carefully considering the arguments on both sides of this issue.” Peters also called for an entire faculty meeting to be solely devoted to discussing the potential of a business major.

For Peters, if the driving force for a business major is the idea of employability after graduation, he suggested that it might be useful to increase funding for internships instead.

The working group’s report will not be the only report on the mind of the faculty, though. In fall 2016, then-Provost John Swallow (C’89) created a committee co-chaired by Papillon and economics professor Katherine Theyson, which also included Swallow, then-Interim Babson Center director Nick Babson, philosophy professor Chris Conn, Treasurer Doug Williams, and then-Brown Fellow and Visiting Scholar Karen Proctor.

In his charge to the committee, Swallow instructed them to “study and report on ways the University’s Babson Center and business minor can attain the next level of excellence over the next five to seven years.”

The report is primarily focused on the role of the Babson Center and the Business minor but also discusses the potential of a Business major. However, as Peters reminded the faculty in his e-mail, there are a number of serious problems outlined in the report that he believes “need to be explored” before a decision is made.

One major problem is in an appendix discussing the visit of Papillon, Babson, Proctor, and Swallow to Babson College in March 2017. Babson College began its life as solely a business school and, as noted in the report, it had “decided that its students needed liberal education as well and was very intentional about bringing the two aspects together in a new curriculum.”

During their visit, the delegation from Sewanee found in discussion with liberal arts faculty that they felt they were “secondary citizens” in the college and that their job was to “keep the business faculty honest in their own teaching.”

Another concern is the experience Papillon had at the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) Chief Academic Officers meeting in March 2017. Papillon reported back about how most of his colleagues that discussed business majors with him, “saw their business majors as a drag on the rest of the curriculum…that it took attention away from ‘traditional liberal arts majors’ and at the same time put pressure on certain points like Business Ethics that took resources from other desired areas.”

The Dean of Millsaps College was the only one to speak in favor of the role of business education, noting the “financial and recruitment benefits” that it gave to Millsaps.

In addition, Dr. R. Owen Williams, President of ACS, expressed “personally and very forcefully” to Papillon his belief that “Sewanee should not have a business major” and that “Sewanee above all others should hold the line.” In the report, Papillon said he found his vehemence “striking and unexpected.”

A potential alternative to a business major might be the expansion of the business minor, as suggested by the Carey Fellows of 2017. In their senior seminar, taught by Proctor, they offered to the working group a potential pathway to expand the business minor, taking it from the current basic minor and the honors minor (which includes the Carey Fellowship) to introducing a business minor with distinction, which would include additional interdisciplinary coursework (modeled after the humanities program) and a semester-long part-time internship near Sewanee for class credit. Carey Fellow Anna Palmer (C’17) informed The Purple that while she was undecided on the overall benefit of a business major, she still liked the idea of a business minor with distinction.