For the Birds
NOVEMBER 01, 1965 by W. M. CURTISS
Dr. Curtiss is Executive Secretary of the Foundation for Economic Education and supervises the Business Fellowship Program outlined in this article.
Businessmen have been mildly shocked by recent indications of a growing disrespect among college students for business as a vocation. "The word on the campus," according to one reporter, "is that business is for the birds." Is this a reasonable conclusion? And, if so, what can be done about it?
Some of this apparent lack of interest in business might be attributed to the growing opportunities for college graduates in other fields. Nevertheless, many businessmen are concerned that their image on campus should be so unattractive. Recruiters return from college interviews, reporting student scorn for business as a vocation, with businessmen pictured as working in a high-pressure, conformist atmosphere with superficial values. Some describe business as an "intellectual
Furthermore, recruiters for business say the top men in the graduating class are "getting away." As one recruiter put it: "No sooner does a man show any ability at all than the profs are on his back to get him into teaching or research." There can be no doubt that opportunities for college graduates, outside of business, have increased tremendously. In teaching alone, the opportunities have mushroomed. With a growing proportion of a rapidly increasing population going to colleges and graduate schools, teaching and administrative staffs must grow apace.
To Man the "Great Society"
Government becomes ever more involved in the "great society," with world-wide military installations, welfare services at home, public housing projects, highways, hospitals, regulatory agencies, to mention just a few. All these tax-supported activities draw heavily upon the young talent emerging from our colleges. This should come as no surprise to anyone who is aware that the government takes more than two-fifths of our production. And beyond this powerful magnet of seemingly unlimited funds, the government further exercises the power to draft some of its manpower.
In view of the widening opportunities for college graduates outside of business, businessmen must face up to this growing competition. Some are attempting to strengthen their recruiting programs. A few offer summer jobs to students with a hope of attracting them to permanent spots after graduation. And some are discovering that serious students may be less interested in promises of lavish entertainment and fringe benefits than in genuine and lasting intellectual satisfactions that can be had by contributions in the world of business.
But how does one overcome the idea, said to be prevalent among a growing number of graduates, that "business is a dirty word"; that "business is for the birds!"?
If the image is correct, then of course this is the image that should prevail. But if this is a mistaken image, as many businessmen and others believe, then it should be corrected.
How do young people formulate their ideas about business? Some simply observe what goes on around them. Some of their impressions doubtless are gained in their homes. But a great many are guided by what they hear from their teachers, both in high school and college. If a professor believes that the world of business is populated by a high proportion of dimwitted, money-grubbing, materialistic individuals, then it would not be surprising if his students come to hold such views.
It is to offset such a possibility that business firms, often in cooperation with colleges, have developed a variety of programs aimed at improving the business image among teachers and the academic image among businessmen.
A single teacher may influence several thousand young students in his classes and by his writings. This, of course, is as true of English, science, history, and mathematics teachers as it is of those who teach economics or political science. All may have a bearing on the student’s image of business.
One of the newer developments for recruiting young men from colleges, and at the same time improving the business image on the campus, is to be found in the "University Relations" departments in business firms. Small firms can hardly afford the luxury of such specialization, but a number of large firms can and do, and with apparent success.
Some firms have made it possible for a professor, on sabbatical or on leave, to spend a "year in industry." This can be especially beneficial to both parties if the professor has matured to the point where he can make a genuine contribution to the operation of the business. For a young man just out of graduate school, the danger is that he may find himself doing some routine job which may be important to the operation of the business, but which may not give him the perspective of a firm which he seeks. Some college deans have been wary of such programs, fearing they may permanently deplete their staff of teachers.
In a few instances, a "swap program" has been arranged, where a businessman tries his hand at teaching and a professor at business. This can be most profitable to both; but circumstances would seem to limit this arrangement for many individuals.
A program which holds great promise, and already has shown beneficial results, is the industry-education seminar. Dr. Thomas J. Hailstones, Dean of Business at
An outgrowth of many of the various programs which bring professors and businessmen together is of ten a consultant relationship between the professor and a business firm. The special talents of a professor thus may be called into use from time to time and over a period of years. This, of course, can be directly beneficial to the relationship between "town and gown."
FEE’s Business Fellowship Program
Shortly after World War II, the Foundation for Economic Education started a program to bring college professors and businessmen together during the summer months. The eighteenth year of this program has just been completed, and arrangements are now being made for the summer of 1966.
In this Program, a professor, selected by a firm from a number of applicants, spends six weeks at the headquarters of the firm in an effort to gain a comprehensive view of the entire operations of the business. In 1965, 72 professors from 66 different colleges and universities spent the summer with 54 business firms located throughout the country. Nearly 1,200 professors have had this experience during the past 18 years. Most of them are teachers of economics, business, and related subjects pertaining to the broad principles of business and the philosophy of management with all its ramifications. A few have come from English departments—especially business communications—and from political science, sociology, guidance and placement, and history.
The Foundation’s role is merely one of bringing the two parties together. The Foundation encourages business firms to sponsor such fellowships and accepts applications from the professors. One necessary detail in processing the applications is to attempt a matching of the specifications listed by business firms with special requests of professors. The business firm pays the professor his traveling expenses and a stipend intended to cover his living expenses for the six weeks. The financial contribution of the firm is substantial, though this may not fully offset the costs to the professor of other employment opportunities he has had to forego, plus the added expense of maintaining his family at home during his absence.
What Are the Benefits?
It is always difficult, if not impossible, to measure the benefits of such a program. Each professor is invited to report his experiences to the business firm at the close of his study. These reports vary from a simple thank-you letter to a detailed, extensive analysis of some special problem of management. A well-done project, of course, may be of direct benefit to the business and a source of considerable satisfaction to the professor.
But the greatest benefits, both to business firms and to the professors, are somewhat intangible and pertain to the long run. A professor has an opportunity to check his textbook theories against what actually happens, and this helps him to become a more effective teacher. If he is a counselor or placement officer, he can advise his students with more confidence. In their reports on their fellowships, a number of professors have said: "This was the most profitable summer I have ever spent."
A business firm may receive help from a professor that will show up on the operating statement. However, this is rare and an "extra dividend," if it occurs. A number of heads of businesses have said it is beneficial to have a professor come in from the outside and question management men about their work. It encourages the men to view their jobs in the perspective of the entire business.
The chief benefit is that such business orientation may help the college professor do his job better. If so, his students may become better recruits for the business community. And, above all, these college-business fellowships should help to create a more faithful business image on the campus.