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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A speech

This is making me cry, will someone in Chicago read this that's willing to pay me more than $11 an hour?

It's graduation time, and the rush is on to hire college graduates whose majors nicely fit the fields where they intend to make their marks.

As a college president, I am grateful that America needs students who are graduating with degrees in fields such as business and engineering. However, I'd like to propose another idea: Hire English majors as well.

In our technology-driven economy, those who use good grammar, who can write well and who have an appreciation for great literature aren't initially seen as great hires.

Later, however, these same companies realize that someone has to write the technical manuals that all employees must be able to understand.

Someone has to meet with representatives of other companies to make the sale and secure the business.

English majors are educated beyond employers' niches and can talk about what they have read lately, the state of the fine arts and the importance of effective communication.

English majors are great conversationalists. Why? Because they have something to say and they know how to communicate. Because they are well-read, their world is more inviting to friends, colleagues and potential business customers.

Everyone learns how rich the world of literature is from English majors. They read, they write, they communicate effectively, and -- unlike so many of us -- they have something to say that's worth hearing.

Because they love literature, they are destined to be lifelong learners. English majors make my heart jump for joy when their résumés cross my desk.

When we don't read outside our field, when we specialize too early in our educational journey, when we don't prepare ourselves to communicate in a global society, we relegate ourselves to a one-dimensional prison of close-mindedness.

English majors have other skills that make them desirable across a variety of occupations. These include the ability to think critically, to analyze, to evaluate and to do research.

English majors have gone on to successful careers in fields ranging from banking to state government.

Although success after college usually doesn't come immediately to those who major in English, they slowly but surely rise to positions of influence in their chosen careers and in their communities.

Why not go ahead and hire them now?

Jake Schrum is president of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.

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Replies: 10 comments

"Agent provacateurs" is a great phrase isn't it?

I love Agent Provacateur(s). Just thought you all should know.

Damn it, the one thing I don't like is pseudonynomous bastards coming in and making me wonder who they are, at least I know who Cavinicus is. Pocket, you are clearly some kind of agent provocateur trying to get both sides mad at you and stir up more of a fight...for which you have my gratitude! Just email me your identity or it will madden me further.

Michelle -- Your very posting proves Cavinicus's rather negative insinuations. You obviously can't discern any sort of argument or justification without it being blatently put in front of you. I, for one, would suggest that you write your liberal arts institution and ask for your money back. When you they teach you the meaning of nuance, come back and we'll talk some more.

And to the rest of you -- you pays your money, you takes your chances. If you choose to major in something which does not have an analagous industry in the global economy, don't be surprised when people hire those with relevant degrees first.


Oh my this a comments war? This is wonderful! Unlike Theresa, or my roommate Reina, whom I've known to be horrified by this sort of thing, I'm *delighted* by the idea of a comments war on my website!

Joust on, my vicious verbal combatants, joust on! I want to see BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD!!!!

Quick side note to Theresa: for my personal interactions, I prefer liberal arts majors. They're generally more interesting, well-rounded people, and, as noted below, I'm one myself. However, the question posed by the original post was why English majors aren't typically sought after by potential employers. As a practial matter, hard science majors make better cogs.

Actually, Michelle, I'm glad your liberal arts college required you to think - that's what a good liberal arts college does. Unfortunately, not all colleges are good liberal arts colleges, which is why we have U.S. News and World Report rankings. I didn't meant to imply that all English majors are slackers or that all college's English programs are laughably easy; rather, I was stating that, as a general rule, all college's physics or mathematics programs are difficult because of the very nature of the subject matter, and it's a safe bet that someone with a hard science degree has a decent work ethic. To answer your query, I went to Boston College for my undergraduate degree, which (while a decent institution) does not have particularly rigorous requirements for its English and History programs (guess what my double major was, by the way). It took me eight months to find a permanent job after graduating, and that was in 1997 when the economy was positively booming. Nearly ten years later, my own personal experience has been that the people who make the best employees are the ones who are willing to do shitty jobs for the greater good of the company, which is synonymous with having a decent work ethic. The analogous situation vis-a-vis one's undergraduate degree is somebody who takes those hard math and science courses and studies their ass off because they know they're going to be more employable upon graduation. Frankly, whether or not they have a "passion" for the subject matter is irrelevant to the question at hand, which is trying to measure their work ethic and general employability. As a practical matter, hiring an English major means taking a risk that I'll end up with some self-important twit who thinks they're too good to make copies or clean toilets if the situation demands it, while hiring some poor sap who spent Saturday nights at the library laboriously working through a mathematical proof means I've employed someone who has a proven willingness to do what needs to be done to accomplish the final goal.

On a more personal note - why do you think I wear black eyeliner and suffer from self-loathing? I'm a corporate attorney who wears a tie every day and if I suffer from anything, it's an inflated ego, not self-esteem issues. In point of fact, I'm probably entirely too comfortable in my own skin. I'm actually a little embarrassed that I've taken the time to respond to you, but I felt your wildly inaccurate estimation of my character demanded it.

As I always tell my engineering/scientist pals:

"I went to college to get an education, not a vocation."

Do I believe that one is a better person for having studied the liberal arts? Yes. Am I biased? Indubitably so. But aren't we all?

Wanting to read...dumping ground...CliffsNotes (not, actually Cliff Notes)...? I'm sorry. Where did you go to school, Cavinicus? Because at my college, my...gasp...liberal fucking arts took a little more work, and little more effort, to get my BA degree in Enligsh Literature. A degree I'm putting to great use, churning out more books for more of us to sit around and chat about. But don't expect me to hand you a degree just for talking about the book I just edited. No, you're going to have to grind out some actual written thought for that.
And can we please leave those hard, hard sciences to those with the passion for them? I fail to see how calculating the distance from Mars to the Horsehead Nebula is any more valid and worthwhile than my ability to correctly refer to CliffsNotes. Please. Go back to your black eyeliner and self-loathing and let the rest of us put our skills to their best use.

Ah, Rory - the problem with this speech is that it uses "English major" when it means "critical thinker without a technical degree." It's true that some English majors are critical thinkers, but it's also true that many colleges use their liberal arts majors as dumping grounds for students who aren't really able to handle any other major that might require actual work. I was an English major myself, and I'd still rather hire a physics major who interviews well because I know he's more likely to have a decent work ethic than somebody who could have fulfilled all of his major requirements using Cliff Notes and still gotten decent grades. English majors have trouble finding employment (especially immediately after college) because they're still a relatively untested commodity. It's the price we pay for wanting to read books and talk about them instead of demonstrating that we're willing to do something we find distasteful or difficult (like hard science) for our degree.

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