Emerson's new initiative bad for business

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • April 9, 2014

At issue: Emerson is expanding business offerings

Our take: It shouldn't be so major

Emerson’s getting down to business—or so it seems. The college hired a new director for its entrepreneurship program, Lu Ann Reeb, after Karl Baehr, the founder, passed away; professors are developing a proposal for a new business major; and starting in the fall, Emerson will double the number of courses for students in the business and entrepreneurial studies minors. And though it may be exciting for the college to ride the bandwagon of entrepreneurship that seems to be sweeping the nation, it signals a sharp change in direction from Emerson’s current single-minded focus on communication and the arts.

As Emerson’s own website says, though the college has grown from its origins as a small school of oratory, “its mission and focus remains largely the same as it was in 1880: to explore and push the boundaries of communication, art, and culture.” If Emerson were to add a business major, it would not only be diverting its limited resources to a field completely unrelated to its mission of 134 years; creating a business major here would also change the artistic culture and spirit of the school.

These are characteristics of Emerson that cause prospective students to gravitate to it in the first place. It is a unique institution that places quirky, enthusiastic dreamers at the top of the food chain, a hierarchy unheard of at other schools. When people tour or visit this school, they constantly comment on the antiquity of its culture, how it is unlike any other traditional collegiate environment. Losing that distinct feature would only serve to alienate the students who saw this place as their haven from the norm.

Advocates of the business major will argue that these students may have an interest in working in the music, film, or even performance industries as agents or something of that nature. With these intentions, they could minor in one of the more artistic-based majors Emerson specializes in, similar to how artistic majors can now minor in business. But the two situations are vastly different. For a business major, energy and passion are not being channeled into an artistic medium. First and foremost, his or her interest is in a major that contradicts the basic mission of our school. On the other hand, a Writing, Literature, and Publishing major minoring in business uses those classes as a catapult for his or her art, so that it has a better chance of being shared with the world. 

The strength of the Emerson brand lies in its niche appeal. Prospective students in no small part end up choosing the college because they’re confident it will cater specifically to their passions and interests. As the school focuses more resources on business courses and contemplates a business major, it creates the impression that its sights aren’t quite so focused. A program outside the traditional communication and arts confines might widen the school’s appeal, but could also deter the students who expect a more intensive experience — and those are the students who have earned Emerson the reputation it currently enjoys. Any good business major would warn against so devaluing a brand.

Students come to Emerson to pursue their passions in communications and the arts. For students who seek a business-based education, go to Brandeis.