It all started with an email we received over the summer. In jubilant tones, we were told that Columbia was now offering a major in financial economics in order to better serve the preferences of students. Then, in the first weeks of this semester, the Center for Student Advising released another announcement that stated that there will be a special concentration in business management for a select group of 20 students. Initially, I reacted to these revelations with pleasure. As a business school hopeful, I immediately thought of these new programs as ways to get a leg up on my pursuit of employment in the business world. With them I could not only educate myself in the basics of business, but I would also make myself stand out as someone dedicated to the field of business management. Perhaps when the business school admissions boards glanced at my application, they would see that I was so determined to get an MBA that I just couldn't wait until grad school to sink my teeth into the rewarding topic of management. Allowing the flush of utilitarian sentiments to pass, I started to consider other perspectives. I recalled why I came to Columbia in the first place. Though my "Why Columbia" essay may have been a little too enthusiastic about the Core Curriculum, my praise of our 80-plus-year-old academic framework was not entirely hollow. The Core, in all of its rigid glory, is perhaps Columbia's strongest offering. It is true that I am one of the many who occasionally bemoan its demands, but at the end of the day I am convinced that the Core puts us on the path of deep intellectual and personal development. This development is so fundamental that it transcends what we would understand to be "useful." In taking Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities—and perhaps even Frontiers of Science—we embark on a journey to challenge the very foundations of our way of thinking, learning, arguing, and interacting. The attitudinal basis of the Core extends into the options available for the remaining two-thirds of a student's credits. Traditionally, Columbia College has never considered vocational practicality in its course offerings. From mathematics to philosophy, the majors to choose from have been related to a concrete subject matter but never to a specific industry, let alone a career path. The purpose of an education in Morningside, as both professors and students understood it, was to equip students with a way of thinking—not a way of doing. Perhaps I am overreacting, but I view these two latest additions to the course bulletins as movements toward what has been and should be a foreign educational philosophy to our campus. Now, this wouldn't be nearly as pernicious of a predicament if it weren't for one key weakness in our collective student body: It's tempting. Even I, a self-proclaimed liberal artist, find myself drawn towards the tangibility of a name like "business management." With something like that on my résumé, I would have a real skill—something that proves that I am adept at a task in the real world. With that title on my degree, I would be spared the hours of explaining to potential employers how a political science and anthropology background will empower me to be a better consultant, marketer, or analyst. Like some sort of ID badge, it would offer me quicker access to a job come graduation. The reason why I don't let myself buy into that logic is this: If we take our education as a tool in the toolbox of life, then we are faced with a choice between adding to a tiny, career-specific box or investing in tools for the toolbox that serves every facet of our lives. By jumping at the opportunity for "real-world" education, we are immediately limiting the power, effect, and influence of our education. That is a trade-off that I am not willing to buy into, and I hope that my fellow Columbians would agree. To be sure, I don't condemn career-specific education. I applaud friends who attend college and major in something very "practical," and I myself plan on going to a graduate school that aims to prepare me for a set of job descriptions. The distinction is this: Columbia has created a niche for itself by being one of the last remaining large universities that is dedicated to the liberal arts and general academic development. I would hate to see this precious distinction fade away because of our succumbing to the temptation of vocational degrees. Let's not take that chance. Let's instead remove the temptation, even if it feels like we're throwing away the paradoxically attractive prospect of burning out at an investment bank in five years' time. Derek Turner is a Columbia College junior majoring in anthropology and political science. He is director of intergroup affairs for the Columbia University College Republicans. Opening Remarks runs alternate Mondays.
Columbia Spectator Staff