Cultural biases still prevail in the realm of higher education. Liberal arts schools serve as a training ground for “Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians,” not the business suit-clad wannabe high profile executives fleeing to Wall Street with their newly-conferred MBA in hand—or so the traditionalists still believe.
Bentley University Professor Dan Everett, dean of arts and sciences, is working to break down the barriers of business education, however, all with the goal of producing students more well-rounded than the competition.
“I was largely disillusioned with what was happening to graduates when they left their undergraduate education,” said Everett, referring to why he chose to come to Bentley after spending 30 years as a linguistic anthropologist. “Higher education was a guaranteed job in the past, but I saw that was becoming less and less so. Educators, including myself, were paying more attention to their interests.”
At Bentley, professors’ interests now blend together. Although Everett serves as dean of arts and sciences and Roy “Chip” Wiggins as dean of business, there are no separate schools or a geographical divide between faculty members. New programs aren’t proposed without input from both Everett and Wiggins. This integration is what led to Bentley’s Liberal Studies Major (LSM).
The LSM features seven concentrations, such as ‘Health and Industry’ and ‘Media Arts and Society,’ that can be completed alongside a business major.
“You can, by design, finish a double major in liberal studies in four years with your business studies degree,” Everett said. “Other schools, you can do a double degree, but it will usually take you five years.”
One-third of the coursework in Bentley’s recently overhauled MBA program is arts and sciences-based, and Everett has since introduced “fusion courses” guaranteed to spark even greater interest among students.
Faculty are now able to work in pairs to develop new courses that blend the best of business with the best of the arts and sciences, essentially combining two classes into a ramped up six-credit one. Material is covered in full from both ends of the equation, but between two professors who may disagree, yet actively engage with students in conversation.
“Last year was our first year, and all of the faculty who taught [a fusion course] want to teach one again,” Everett said. “You had a professor of finance talking with a professor of history in front of their class.”
Everett describes Bentley’s model more in-depth in his newly-released book, “Shaping the Future of Business Education: Relevance, Rigor, and Life Preparation.” Everett rallied Bentley faculty members to create a collection of chapters, and by the book’s end, readers are provided with a proactive view of why the arts and sciences go hand-in-hand with business training.
Employers are looking for more well-rounded graduates, and Bentley’s program help produces just that—students capable of completing technical tasks and then speak clearly about them. Quoting a Bentley advisory board member, Everett said, “I’d rather hire an English major from Brown than a business major from a top school. Someone who can think creatively about history, art and literature, but also be successful at business.”
In Everett’s eyes, a majority of schools fail to innovate their MBA program because of the risk factor. That, and convincing faculty from different schools to work more closely together would likely spark defensiveness on both sides.
“Here, teaching on the MBA counts as your normal job performance as though you were teaching in your own department,” Everett said.