January 17, 2013

Business Minor for Whom?

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In the middle of the past semester, Cornell announced a new business minor open to undergraduates in all seven colleges. Prior to this initiative, only CALS students were eligible to obtain AEM minors from the Dyson school. The administration hopes to broaden Cornell’s opportunities by enabling non-CALS students to have access to Cornell’s prestigious undergraduate business degree. The term “prestige,” however, by definition implies prominent distinction achieved by a select few. Unless your perception of prestige is congruent to that of Harvard, which grants honors degrees to a whopping 91 percent of its graduates, you may question the legitimacy of this new business minor. Since the announcement, the entire Cornell undergraduate population has been buzzing with this new possibility. This makes me wonder how future employers will perceive the imminent prevalence of Cornell’s business minor.Besides the disproportionately increased class size for business minors, it is questionable if the quality of education provided would be suitable for current business world. The new proposed business minor has only four requirements along with two prerequisites. Since most students have already taken microeconomics and statistics for their major requirements or high school AP courses, this leaves four core courses: management, marketing, accounting and finance. The growing concern is that these courses are already some of the most popular courses at Cornell with massive class sizes hovering around 500 to 600 students, as is the case for management and marketing courses. Even accounting and finance courses with relatively smaller sizes of 100 to 150 students do not require any written assignments, and it is unlikely computing numbers into your calculator takes much critical thinking. The universal goal of undergraduate education is to foster one’s critical analysis through oral and written communication. The Dyson school’s self-description of “the smallest, most selective four-year undergraduate business program in the U.S. [where] our students know each other” cannot be farther off from the reality.I, for one, took my first non-Arts and Sciences class from the hotel school this past year in finance and could not believe how effortless the course was. As long as you knew which number to plug into your calculator, you were basically all set! Not much conceptual substance to grasp, if any. It was the only course at Cornell I could skip every single lecture and still pulled out an A- by cramming few hours prior to the exams. Initially, I was offended that some students would end up with a same degree as me by taking these types of no-brainer courses. Then, fortunately, my rationale reminded me of where I was. This is Cornell, where we pride ourselves that we, students, are entitled to choose whatever degree we desire to obtain from our undergraduate years. This is no Columbia or Chicago where every undergraduate must take essentially six identical set of classes as the core.            Although I love Cornell for its freedom and flexibility, encapsulating both liberal-arts and pre-professional programs, I am afraid this delicate balance has tipped in recent years. While Cornell’s humanities struggle to attract undergraduate majors and suffer the consequences of losing prominent linguistic programs such as FALCON and critical language programs, the Dyson school boasts one of the lowest acceptance rates within Cornell at 10 percent, and its home, Warren Hall, is currently going through $51 million renovation project.I am extremely proud to be attending an institution where you can choose your own degree. I have no problem whatsoever that my peers are pursuing pre-professional programs through ILR, the Hotel school, the Dyson school or the School of Engineering. My concern for this new business minor is that it will inevitably trigger humanities majors’ insecurities over their job prospects. Isn’t it enough that half of the school is already dedicated to pre-professionalism? Every humanities major will ponder whether they should pursue this flashy business minor, since apparently our humanities degree alone isn’t enough. We encounter our peers with impressive lists of internships daily. Yet, we are not intimidated, for it was our choice to explore the meaning and depth of human existence in small, discussion-oriented seminars over playing with some numbers in large, impersonal lecture halls. So, why doesn’t the administration stop preying on our job insecurities and let us actually study what we came here for?

Don Oh is a junior in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. He may be reached at do95@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semster.

Original Author: Don Oh