Faculty to vote on proposal for Business major

The Educational Policy Committee voted last week to approve and distribute a proposal for the creation of a new major in Business and Management. If approved, Wheaton will join an increasingly long list of small liberal arts schools that have chosen to incorporate majors in Business, marking a changing trend in what has normally been thought of as a “traditional” liberal arts education.

The major would build upon the newly revamped Business and Management minor, which Wheaton began offering in the fall with three new courses in Business, Accounting and Marketing. At the same time, an ad hoc committee was convened to begin discussing what a major in Business might look like.

This past fall, the President’s Council brainstormed several strategic initiatives for the coming years, aimed at bettering the College’s bottom line. One of them included the addition of a Business major, says Provost Linda Eisenmann.

Eisenmann says the idea arose chiefly from demand from prospective students. Data from the Office of Admission indicated that seven percent of applicants to the Class of 2015 had, after applying to Wheaton, still indicated Business as being their first choice for a major.

“It was the largest single request for a major that we don’t carry,” said Eisenmann. “That suggested to us that there was a group of students out there who would be interested in Wheaton…whose interest [might] sustain a little longer [if we were to add Business].”

“Business is something that catches people’s eye…so we see it as a way of broadening the funnel of students who will look at Wheaton in the first place,” she added.

The Committee on Committees and Agenda (COCA) reviewed the President’s Council initiatives and prioritized the Business major, recommending the creation of an ad hoc committee to study its implementation and draft a proposal.

From early on in the process, faculty have stressed the importance of keeping a Business major relevant to Wheaton and part of the overall liberal arts fabric.

As Russell Williams, Associate Professor of Economics and Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Business major, expains,“It was very important that all of us [on the Committee] had a strong commitment to thinking about business in light of the liberal arts. [We wanted to] construct a Business program that represented…the values and goals and general curricular framework of Wheaton. And that was a very strong sentiment.”

In initial meetings, the committee examined an emerging trend among comparative liberal arts schools of developing Business programs, and came up with initial ideas for how Wheaton could separate itself from the pack by developing a program that was forward-looking and multifaceted, according to Williams.

“We . . . wanted to be able to emphasize what may be different about our business major [from] other institutions,” said Williams.

“We were very conscious . . . about the fact that we didn’t want to be preparing students for twentieth-century jobs . . . that we needed to be thinking about what were going to be the business needs of 2020 and beyond.”

These initial thoughts eventually led to the overall structure of the major, which will include ten core courses with an additional three required courses in one of five concentrations: Equality, Diversity, and Social Responsibility; Policy, Non-Profits, and the Arts; Globalization and Development; Society and the Environment; and Analytics and New Media.

The structure of the core courses and concentrations, according to Williams, allow students to pursue fields not just in the private sector, but also in the public and non-profit sectors, while taking into account increasingly pertinent fields of study such as globalization and the effects of environmental factors like development and climate change.

The ad hoc committee worked throughout the fall semester and winter break to bring forward a comprehensive proposal to the Committee on Educational Policy — an elected faculty committee that oversees all changes to the Wheaton curriculum — at the beginning of the spring semester. The Committee voted last week to distribute the proposal to the faculty and bring it up for a vote at the March 1 full meeting.

Professor of Biology John Kricher chairs the Committee on Education Policy, and has compared the introduction of the Business Major to a number of other steps Wheaton has taken over the years to alleviate financial and enrollment concerns while staying on par with competitors.

“The main thing that any college needs to be able to do is to understand its clientele,” said Kricher. “There are certain things that are trendy in education over time, but some of this trendiness has a solid foundation in how it contributes to the likelihood that students will be successful.”

Kricher noted the First Year Seminar program, which was brought about in response to how other schools were facilitating the high school-to-college transition. “It’s a two-way street: students worry about what colleges will be accepting them . . . but [colleges] worry about whether we’re going to get the kinds of students we’re looking for, as well.”

“In terms of the business major . . . with all indications that this is a very large area of interest among this generation of students, and knowing full well that we could serve that interest . . . right now, with the [addition] of some more courses and . . . faculty, I think we’d be foolish not to proceed. And I think ultimately the faculty will agree,” added Kricher.

Linda Eisenmann says that if the major is approved, it will begin to take shape next fall with the help of one new Business faculty member. The Business Major will not, however, get its own department — for now, at least.

“For the immediate future, [the new hire] will be part of the Economics department,” said Eisenmann. “As time goes by, we’ll decide whether that’s a permanent home or whether there’s a separate Department of Business.”

The current plan is for two additional Business faculty to be hired within the next two to three years.

“It was really important to us to think about how the major would fit in [at] Wheaton,” said Eisenmann. “We think we’ve been able to . . . create a business major that is liberal arts-oriented and Wheaton-centered.”

The faculty is expected to vote on the proposal at the March 1 meeting. If approved, Classes of 2016 and above will be able to declare the new major.