By Joanna Mercuri
When jobs are scarce and money is tight, the liberal arts tend to face great scrutiny about their practical value in the marketplace.
But if you ask Gabelli student Joseph Buccheri to go back and rethink his choice to study philosophy alongside finance, he insists, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
He isn’t alone in making such a claim. At Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business — a place where talk of marketable skills and return-on-investment form the vernacular — there is little doubt about the value of the liberal arts. Here, courses such as philosophy, history, and theology form a central part of the business curriculum.
Buccheri, a junior at Gabelli, said he has found great value in the unlikely combination of finance and philosophy. There are the traditional upshots of studying philosophy, he said — namely, a refined writing style, critical thinking skills, an exposure to theories outside of one’s own discipline. But he was surprised to find that philosophy’s logic-based thinking style is also directly helpful for learning how to pitch a financial argument.
“Finance is less a science than it is an art,” Buccheri said. “You have to consider many different aspects when you’re building a financial model—for instance, tax rate, growth rate, discount rate, the industry in general, comparable companies, and so on—and then build an argument as to why [your model]is appropriate.”
He also sees the value — moral as well as practical — of his philosophical studies in relation to the field of finance overall.
“Businesses really need to consider how their decisions reflect who they are as a company in terms of their ethics,” he said. “People do take note of companies’ ethical decisions, which is something that could ultimately be reflected in their sales.”
Granted, there is indeed a practical upshot of centering a business curriculum on a liberal arts core, said Donna Rapaccioli, Ph.D., the dean of Fordham’s Schools of Business.
“Many technical skills necessary to get a job today will be obsolete in a few years,” said Rapaccioli. “Successful employees—and good leaders—need the ability to adapt to a rapidly changing world. They also need an ethical grounding and a nuanced worldview [to develop]one of the most important attributes any business person can possess—integrity.”
A liberal arts education is useful not just for cultivating a different kind of skillset, however, she said. She believes that the depth it adds to a student’s overall education is inherently valuable—both for the student’s personal growth and for the sake of the business environments they are entering.
“There are many good business schools and many outstanding business students,” she said. “What students get here that they may not get elsewhere is a sense of purpose… a strong idea of his or her place in the world.”
Global Business at Lincoln Center
This belief has played out in the Gabelli School’s brand new global business program based at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus. Students take the same core courses that all Fordham students take (courses in literature, history, philosophical ethics, and fine arts, among others). Each student must then take seven additional liberal arts courses to complement his or her chosen concentration, which ultimately amounts to a minor in a liberal arts discipline.
The idea, said Vin DeCola, S.J., assistant dean for Gabelli School of Business at Lincoln Center, is that students understand not just the what of their business education, but the what for.
“Courses in anthropology and psychology might help a marketing student to understand consumer behavior and the global marketplace,” Father DeCola said. “Similarly, the management degree with a focus on healthcare would invite taking science classes for a more direct grounding in the science behind the health industry.”
In terms of a traditional business curriculum, some of the program’s requirements — such as calculus or macroeconomics — are not so unconventional. What makes the Gabelli School unique, Father DeCola said, is the idea that even the humanities have an important role to play in business instruction.
“Theology, for instance, helps in understanding the belief structures that are embodied in many different places in the world,” he said. “If you’re doing business on a global level it’s important to know faith traditions behind the countries you’ll be interacting with.
“The idea here is that because this is a global business program, a broad knowledge of the world is important in order to read the signs of the times and understand the trends going forward.”
“Morally speaking, it is quite simply Fordham’s responsibility to educate the whole person,” Rapaccioli said. “We ask our students to be a part of Fordham’s culture, which stresses classical liberal education, because we want our graduates to be compassionate and ethical global leaders, not just highly skilled accountants, financiers, or marketers.
“We cannot simply pay lip service here to ethics and the greater good. We have to live it. Hundreds of years of history demand that of us. That tradition is worth something.”