University Leaders

Are you worried the liberal arts are fading from view? Are you facing funding cuts for the humanities? Are you tired of jokes about English majors slinging burgers?

Here are nine steps colleges and universities can take to fix this.

(1)        Create a “Liberal Arts Advantage” presence in your academic departments. Yours should include:

A web page devoted to what you can do with a liberal arts degree (aside from teach, attend grad school, or work in a museum), including a handy online library of materials about the usefulness of the liberal arts.

An Event Calendar of department-sponsored occasions where speakers come to talk with students about the future usefulness of their education. Imagine your students listening to what these speakers have to say about how their educations prepared them for their careers and their lives.

Add to the Event Calendar local events with business people. Example, an evening get-together where local hiring managers come to your campus to meet your humanities and social sciences students. Partner with Career Services to help your students get ready for these meetings.

(2)        Develop certificate programs exclusively for liberal arts students, in partnership with your School of Extended Studies.

Examples:

Business Writing for Writers, because it takes years to learn to write competently but not much time to learn to apply that ability to business.

Business Analysis for Humanities Majors, about how to apply critical thinking and research to process and information analysis.

Fundamentals of Project Management, equipping students with an understanding of planning and managing qualitative information in project work.

Managing a Writing Business. Financials, marketing, and technology for aspiring writers who want to offer independent writing / editing services.

Note: Business schools offer non-credit “communication” classes to their majors. Some even require attendance. Why can’t liberal arts offer non-credit business prep? Bridge this gap in both directions!

(3)        Bond with Career Services. Ask them to introduce you to hiring managers and human resources people they know in your geographic area. In your meeting with HR, ask the HR staffing representatives what would make them look twice at a liberal arts student’s resume. Take notes. Use this information to fuel your creativity about how to help your students.

(4)        Encourage your liberal arts students to attend career fairs. Don’t assume those events are just for professional schools. They’re for people who want to put their educations to use in some meaningful way. Help them do that. Sponsor a session to help them pitch themselves to prospective hiring managers. Career Services stands ready to assist.

(5)        Develop a course called “Leadership in Literature” about how the study of literature prepares future leaders. Here’s the guidebook for preparing this course: Questions of Character: Illuminating the Heart of Leadership Through Literature by Joseph Badaracco.

(6)        Write a speech for an audience of Human Resources professionals and hiring managers about how prepared liberal arts students are for lives of work and purpose. Volunteer to give it for the Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, or the HR department at a business Career Services recommends. Then meet your audience.

(7)        Develop marketing collateral (a brochure, for example) about what it means to be a liberal arts major—in practical terms. Send these, along with your personal letter of introduction, to local business leaders. (Note: Business people listen to academics. Just speak up.)

(8)        Equip your admissions department with information about how relevant and necessary the liberal arts are. If admissions advisers steering eager humanities prospects to what they think are more lucrative vocational majors, re-direct!

Tactical Steps – Half-day training course for admissions reps that covers “the liberal arts skills”; an overview of today’s workplace and how liberal arts skills are applied; an overview what employers are desperate to find (communication skills, analytical skills, systemic thinking, cultural competency, etc.) per AAC&U study, “Raising the Bar – Employers’ Views of College in the Wake of the Economic Downturn” 2010.

(9)        Write articles about the relevance of the liberal arts—for an audience of business leaders. Or partner with a business person and then write it collaboratively. So far, much of the writing on this subject has remained within academic circles—professors and researchers talking to, and writing for, other professors and researchers. Instead, tell people who are running today’s businesses! They’re the ones who need to get it.

And just write it. Don’t labor over it.

Blog, don’t slog. In other words, start a blog so you don’t have to slog through an elongated submit / revise / edit / publish cycle in a publication which then owns your material after they print it. Stepping up the pace is important, and blogging is one way to do it.

Leadership In Action?

Yes, it’s a lot of work. Of course it’s politically complicated. Maybe the School of Business won’t like it. Maybe funding is an obstacle. Sure, it’s challenging to make new connections outside your usual professional circle, not to mention the greater challenge of simply undertaking a new initiative. All of the above calls on leadership abilities—resourcefulness, creativity, influence, and a willingness to challenge the status quo.

There’s only one thing I can think of to add to this: get moving. 

Let me know if I can help you get this started.

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