Rethinking Business Education as a Profession: Implications for Catholic Universities

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William M. Sullivan, Ph.D.

Abstract

Professional education importantly shapes the way future professionals understand their work and their identity as members of their professional field. Undergraduate business education does this by giving students an understanding of the nature and functions of business as well as what they may hope for from a business career, along with the intellectual tools to pursue such careers. This article argues that the liberal arts are valuable for making sure that business students understand business in a wide, socially responsible perspective, as well as seeing their own career possibilities, fi nding fulfi llment through contributing to the common good. Business and liberal arts education share a set of four modes of thinking: analytical thinking; the ability to understand situations within multiple frames of reference; the refl ective exploration of meaning and value; and, uniting these four, the capacity to apply knowledge in situations through practical reasoning. The author includes a description of three exemplary undergraduate business programs that integrate business and liberal learning through these modes of thinking. He then makes the case that understanding the “social ecology” or social impact of business is an essential concept for expanding the practical imagination of business students.

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Author Biography

William M. Sullivan, Ph.D., Wabash College

William Sullivan is Senior Scholar at the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College. He was formerly Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, where he co-directed the Preparation for the Professions Program.