This past Monday Miles Young, the Warden for New College, Oxford, and the Honorary President of the Lafayette Club came to speak to us about why a liberal education still matters in the business world. Having spent much of his life working in advertising, most recently as Global Chairman and CEO of Ogilvy and Mather, a leading global communications network, Miles was particularly well placed to speak on the topic.
Young, an undergraduate historian at New College, Oxford from 1973 to 1976, was quick to explain why he felt a history degree in particular would be useful. Examining history and historical sources means sifting through what is propaganda, what joins the dustbin of history, and how to find the narrative in each side’s telling of one event. In business, argues Young, this is essential. Employees must be able to discern for themselves what is useful and what they are being spoon fed by someone else for a purpose, a history degree gives a student this ability.
Moving on to why liberal arts in general as a degree is important Young discussed it’s ability to teach a student how to think critically, to analysis, come up with a solution to the perceived problems, deliver a solution and fluently communicate that solution. A liberal arts degree provides students with a sensitivity to culture and cultural issues, how something will be received by the general public. This is something that, argues Young, the digits of the stem world simply don’t teach. A liberal arts degree creates intuition, an innate sense as to whether or not something or someone will work in the way that is required.
Young is quick to explain that he has nothing against the stem world. He sees value in it just as he sees value in the arts, only it is the arts, he believes, that, in this day and age, need fighting for. Ideally a middle ground should be found. Historically liberal arts was the way to go, now it;s the reverse.
A liberal arts degree is something that many big business owners, American Express and Disney among others, have, but for some reason seem to keep quiet about. This seems to stem from the new conception that a vocational education is the way to go. A stem education that can be applied directly upon graduation. There is nothing wrong with this, Young simply feels we need both sides. We need those that can solve math problems but we also need those that can preserve the history of human culture and knowledge. Ideally, students would be able to be educated in both, to bring a humanities style of thinking to stem to see what kind of problems could be solved that way. However, if we continue on the trajectory that we are on, funding continues to move towards stem, politicians and parents pushing the sciences, the arts and a key aspect of what makes man, man, will be lost. This is what Young is afraid of, this is the danger of digits: the lose one’s humanity in the numbers needed to build a robot.