The University of Oregon's Lundquist College of Business holds liberal arts and critical thinking as pillars of its curriculum. So when Dean James Bean wanted to partner with other liberal arts disciplines within the university, the philosophy department jumped at the opportunity.
Chair of the philosophy department at the University of Oregon, Associate Professor Scott Pratt, embraces the idea of getting outside the confines of his office and bringing the practice of philosophy to other disciplines in the university, as well as into the community.
The first area of cooperation between the Lundquist college and the Department of Philosophy is a new undergraduate course in business ethics, to be offered in the spring. While the philosophy department already had planned to offer the class, a business-philosophy committee is discussing curriculum design and the possibility of making it a business prerequisite.
"The business ethics course is aimed at teaching students to think broadly, to understand how arguments work and communicate about them," said Pratt.
In addition, the Lundquist college is looking for ways to introduce critical thinking skills and ethical considerations into the business curriculum, what Pratt calls "advanced thinking about moral issues." With training from philosophy faculty, for example, accounting professors might weave discussions and exercises on the moral dimensions of accounting decisions into their teaching.
A third area of collaboration the Lundquist College of Business and the philosophy department are considering is in continuing education. This could take the form of business ethics workshops for alumni and professionals in the community. The philosophy department has already tried this successfully with a medical ethics program for physicians.
Underpinning these partnership discussions is Bean and Pratt's belief in the importance of a liberal arts education. They see great value in students learning to think critically and convey ideas articulately. It is what Pratt calls "thinking richly."
"When you sit down and read something or when you are thinking about a problem, you need to think about it richly in order to communicate about it richly," Pratt said.
Students who learn to think richly may be better prepared to make decisions--in business as in other areas--because they've learned to question value systems, Pratt added.
"One of the things that comes from a good general education is the ability to step back and say, 'what are we valuing and why are we valuing it?' This aptitude would be invaluable for someone who goes into business," he said.
Pratt may see the world from a slightly different viewpoint than those in business. But from where he sits, he also sees plenty of common ground.
"Students need to be thinking philosophically in their business classes," he said. "It's not just a question of having more liberal arts credits, but of making the link between the theory and the practice. One thing I like about the conversations we are having with the business school is that the people there are thinking that way too."