Humanities or STEM? What's best in an MBA program?

This week, staff from the Opus College of Business and more than 100 other business schools from around the world gathered at the GMAC Annual Conference in Vancouver, BC, Canada to discuss graduate management education’s rapidly changing landscape.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, in Washington, D.C., lawmakers turned a spotlight on re-focusing the country on maintaining national excellence in the humanities and social sciences—and how failure to do so will have consequences at home and abroad for the future of American education, security, and competitiveness—by releasing a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences titled, The Heart of the Matter.

How do these two events come together? At the GMAC conference closing keynote, David Bach, the Senior Associate Dean for Executive MBA and Global Programs at Yale School of Business put it this way: we need a change in "T-shaped leadership."

The term "T-shaped" describes people who possess deep capabilities in a core function (the vertical part of the T), with broad capacities in diverse areas (the horizontal part of the T).

Perhaps in the past it had been that a liberal arts education was the broad part of the T and an MBA was the vertical. Bach suggested that an MBA itself is broad and specialization of the degree for each student adds the vertical. Bach argued that liberal arts and humanities are essential in addition to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (a.k.a. STEM disciplines).

That's similar to what the report said. It warns against declining emphasis on humanities and social sciences and looks at the vital role they play in preparing and sustaining Americans for the responsibility of productive citizenship in the United States and the world.

The video above does a good job explaining the case.

As Bach put it, "Management is required everywhere." Managers are needed not only in business, but also in government, in hospitals, in law firms, churches and non-profit organizations. Having a breadth of knowledge can enable managers to better lead in a wide range of organizations.

In Washington, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said “The American character is defined not by ethnicity—Americans come from many countries, races, religions, and cultures—but by a common set of ideals and principles that unite us as a country.”

At UST, we're pushing to increase diversity of thought in our classrooms in ways that meet the ideals of both Bach and Alexander— that means finding students with many different backgrounds. There are definitely students entering the MBA program this fall with business degrees, but there are equally as many with degrees in science, education, arts, engineering and many other disciplines. We appreciate having people in class with different perspectives. It broadens the conversation and helps make every graduate a better manager in whatever their specialization might be.

What do you think? Should the country increase focus on STEM or humanities? What is the right balance? Let us know in the comments.