THE LIBERAL ARTS UNDER ATTACK 6 - l i n f i e l d m a g a z i n e Spring 2017 Susie Kuhn ’97 never took a Linfield course in business, math or finance. “I was as hard-core humanities as you could get,” says Kuhn, a history major and political science minor who took enough English classes to consider herself an honorary major in that department, too. These days, Kuhn is a vice president at Converse and general manager of the Nike subsidiary’s direct-to-consumer sales in China. Rather than viewing her liberal arts background as a liability in the business world, Kuhn credits the curiosity, critical thinking and communication skills it honed for driving her success. “In old-school business, it was about good repetition,” she said. “Now it’s about being flexible in your critical thinking to manage how your business will look in the future. The ability to adapt and constantly assess the market is crucial. You have to be willing to shift and alter your business plan because everything around you is moving.” You want the skills and attributes, in other words, that a well-rounded liberal arts education is supposed to provide. “You will miss opportunities,” Kuhn says, “if you’re not nimble.” That, however, is not a universal view in American culture. The economic recession that started in late 2007 and the slow recovery that followed it overlapped with demographic changes in the traditional college-age U.S. population to form a new reality for colleges and universities. Nowhere, perhaps, is that reality being felt more strongly than at private liberal arts colleges. Reduced to its simplest terms, the skepticism underpinning the new reality runs something like this: Academia is frittering away time and money teaching philosophy and interpretative literature, when the country really needs more workers with technical degrees or specific applied skills. Taken a step further, the argument suggests students are borrowing money to earn degrees that don’t contribute to the economy or lead to good jobs.
Linfield Magazine Spring 2017
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