Visionary?

Reading about Nipissing University’s Students in Free Enterprise (NUSIFE), which is a group of students who undertake projects “intended to increase the public’s awareness of entrepreneurship and business-related subjects,” it occurs to me to wonder why such an endeavour is undertaken only by business students.

Consider the projects listed below – and imagine…

– “Global Crusaders” educated high school students about minimum wages and exchange rates in five different countries – why not educate them about gender issues in five different countries?

– “Team Builders” led team-building exercises during a weekend program at the YMCA – my guess is that sociology students’ take on team-building would be quite different than that of business students…

– “Junior Tycoons” were high school students presented with a basic business plan – why not present “Junior Diplomats” with a recess plan based on insights from political science, history, and psychology?

– “Budgeting for Mental Health Patients” – how about “Philosophy for Mental Health Patients”?

– “My First Bank Account” – whatever happened to “My First Library Card”?

– “Nipissing East Community Opportunities” received a marketing plan – they could have used an environmental assessment plan…

– “Show Me the Money” was about financial planning guidelines on the web – how about “Show Me the Stars”, astronomy on the web?

– “A Feasibility Study” was presented to graphic arts students – how about presenting them with an ethics study?

Such projects, both by training students to apply their knowledge outside academia and by increasing the visibility of business in the outside world, probably contribute to the strangle-hold business – business activities and business interests – has on the world; therefore, suggesting that such endeavours be undertaken by humanities and science students as well is more than an exercise in imagination – it’s an identification of responsibility.

This particular infiltration of business is so developed that there are actually competitions among universities for their SIFE teams.  Yes, there are poetry and drama competitions too, but poems and plays don’t reach out and engage the community in the same way; they just present to, perform for, the community (except for those cool workplace theatre guerrilla groups).  Perhaps science does a little better – there are, of course, the annual science fairs, but from time to time I also see students out in the field with their lab kits.

This lack of engagement is rampant throughout the humanities curriculum.  We teach our English students how to appreciate and write poetry, but not how to find a literary agent; how to appreciate and write drama, but not how to produce a play.  Philosophy students are great at clarifying concepts and values, identifying hidden assumptions, testing for consistency and coherence; psychology students know all about how our minds and emotions work; sociology students know about people in groups, small and large, in cultures and subcultures and countercultures; history students know what hasn’t worked.  Along with our students of gender studies and native studies and our other social science students, humanities students (the humanities focus on humanity – and who, what, are we talking about when all is said and done?), and of course our science students (what is humanity but one bunch of carbon-based organisms among many), would be great consultants if they had any consulting skills.[1]  But we don’t teach them how to write a proposal, how to contract for business, or how to manage a project.

Until we do these things, our humanities and science students will be dependent on business students as go-betweens and as enablers.  And since business students, by definition apparently, have profit as their motivator, their purpose, and their goal, there is bound to be a certain amount of unfulfilled potential.  Business students are not likely to set up Sociologists, Inc. or History Is Us.  Nor are they even likely to engage the services of non-business students as consultants.

OPAS is another example of the deficiency I’m trying to expose.  It’s a partnership between Ontario universities and Canadian companies, named “The Office for Partnerships for Advanced Skills” with a mandate to “foster more effective relations between universities and companies who hire and maintain a highly skilled workforce” and “respond to requests and develop initiatives that promote increased use of university-based resources including advanced skills development.”  One might be forgiven, therefore, for thinking it was pretty inclusive.  This seems indicated even by the Special Events & Programs (which includes “the Visionary Seminar Series, Industry Sector Symposia, Internship & Reciprocal Exchange Programs and the development of a National Network”) and by the Skills Development statement (which says “In knowledge industries, skills requirements advance and change, creating new needs. OPAS responds to these changing skills needs with solutions designed and delivered by leading university programs across Ontario”).

However, a close look reveals that there isn’t a whole lot of room for humanities and social science; there’s something for science and engineering (an auto parts symposium is listed, as well as a biotech sector symposium), but it seems that the university programs they’re talking about partnering with are pretty much the BBA and MBA.  Their website welcome page confirms this: “In today’s knowledge-based economy, business organizations are faced with the need to address constant changes in operating practices, human capital requirements, and technology.”  That page is pure business buzz (“human capital”?!).  (And there you do see the specification – “business organizations….”)

Indeed, had I visited the OPAS website first, I wouldn’t have been so surprised to discover that the keynote speaker (the only speaker) at the “Visionary 2000” seminar was the CEO of the Royal Bank (how much more focussed on business, profit, money, can you get?).  And the very fact that his talk, nothing more than a Royal Bank promo, was billed as visionary indicates just how much we need to correct this deficiency.

 

[1] Marc Renaud, president of SSHRC, says “many of the key questions confronting our society fall within the realm of the social sciences and the humanities and our disciplines represent a goldmine of knowledge that can help.  We need to make sure that people outside the research community know about this goldmine, so that it can be put to broader use” (quoted by David Bentley in “Humanities for humanity’s sake” University Affairs).

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