Liberal arts with professional training: the best of both worlds
by Thomas E. Kelly
I want to congratulate your publication on serving the Franciscan community in an intellectual manner. The Concourse provides a unique vehicle in which to engage in thought-provoking and intellectual debate.
I am a new full-time faculty member at Franciscan University of Steubenville, currently serving as assistant professor of accounting in the Department of Accounting. Despite my “rookie” status, I have always been, directly or indirectly, involved with this great institution. My father, Professor Edward J. Kelly, was one of the “founding fathers” of FUS and served as Chair of the Department of Accounting and Business from 1949 to 1981. I received both of my academic degrees from Franciscan. Hence, one could argue that I am a rookie with veteran characteristics.
I have noted with keen interest the continuous debate concerning whether or not the University is too “professionally” intensive. Some argue that the liberal arts contain all one should possess in order to achieve a thorough education and that this type of instruction will provide the student with all they need to think constructively. Some argue that professional education is useful, but if Franciscan University cannot possess the best of both worlds, then liberal arts education will still be able to amply supply students with the intellectual ability they will need to succeed in the world.
I have the pleasure of advising business and accounting majors. It is abundantly encouraging to see several students majoring in both a professional and a liberal arts major. Some of these students are theology and accounting and/or business majors. It is my belief that these students have achieved the best of both worlds. Not only do they have an extensive education in the liberal arts, but they possess a valuable ingredient: the professional ability to implement their philosophy.
Organizations survive only if operated effectively and efficiently. During my corporate and academic career, I have worked with individuals that possess the “liberal arts only” mentality. Because of this, unfortunately, they had very little concept of budgeting, finance, and/or management skills. This serious deficiency can and does lead to organizational chaos and demise. Some go it alone and lead their organization directly into extinction. Some are fortunate enough to hire professionals to assist them in financial and managerial tasks. But their lack of professional education still leaves them susceptible to total reliance on these professionals and limits their ability to choose the best possible professionals for their organization. These individuals possessed creative ideas, but simply did not have the professional education needed to complete the idea. I can remember my father stating on many occasions, “One can ponder ideas forever, but eventually one must pick up a pad and paper and strategically develop the means to implement the idea. If they lack the scientific ability to implement it, their idea goes nowhere.”
During the 1950’s, when my father was injured and in the hospital, Fr. Daniel Egan, the first President and one of the founders of the then College of Steubenville, assumed his accounting courses for him. Fr. Egan was able to effectively teach my father’s students in Principles of Accounting, Intermediate Accounting, and Advanced Accounting. It is interesting to note that the building in which an abundance of the courses at FUS are offered is named after an individual who possessed a graduate business degree.
Fr. Regis Stafford, another founder of FUS, served as Treasurer of the College. He also possessed a graduate business degree. Bishop John King Mussio, definitely one of the founders of the College of Steubenville, had the management, finance, marketing and entrepreneurial qualities that helped establish this institution, as well as a high school, several Catholic grade schools, a seminary, a hospital and numerous other institutions geared towards improving the spiritual life of the community. Did these great men believe that a liberal arts education was essential for the FUS student? Certainly. However, their successful leadership abilities are proof positive of the need to think not only critically but professionally in order to achieve organizational success. We are all reaping the benefits of their combined liberal and professional education. It is because of them that we can comfortably relax and discuss the issue.
During the days when this institution was truly near extinction, it was Professor Edward Kelly’s Accounting and Business Department and Professor Daniel Georges’ Education Department that served as the largest majors on campus. These non-liberal art departments allowed the College of Steubenville to survive during those difficult times. Fortunately, Fr. Michael Scanlan was named President and this institution flourished. My father proudly and publicly proclaimed, as often as he could, that “Fr. Mike saved the college.” This was accomplished by making FUS a unique spiritual and liberal arts institution. But this institution has a great history of sending into the world doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers and other professionals marked with the sign of Christ. The professional sciences are an important ingredient of this institution and should be viewed constantly as a valuable member of the FUS family.
During one of my Introduction to Business lectures, one student questioned me as to why the business world contains so many godless qualities. My answer was simple: “Because you are not there.” This seemed to strike a chord with the student. The student seemed to achieve an understanding that I have witnessed among most of the students enrolled in the Department of Accounting, Business and Economics. It is an understanding that Christ is needed in the workplace. They envision a world in which the majority of lawyers, accountants, doctors, teachers and other professionals are proudly proclaiming Christ as Lord. In this ideal world, Christ is the center of the business community and only those companies and organizations that are dedicated to expanding Christ’s kingdom on earth succeed and replace those organizations that possess godless qualities. This can be achieved because these students do possess the “best of both worlds”—a strong liberal arts education and the professional education that enables them to effectively implement and achieve this glorious end result. Their endeavor demands our encouragement and prayers. Students embarking on such a noble course should be applauded and encouraged to succeed.
The necessary combination of both professional and liberal arts components of a college education is critical for the student to receive a complete college education. They cannot be separated. One cannot survive without the other. Franciscan University of Steubenville must continue to possess the best of both worlds. To sufficiently arm our students in order to fulfil the Great Commission, this must continually be our goal. It is for this purpose and goal, like my father before me, that I am proud to be a member of the faculty of Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Mr. Kelly is assistant professor of accounting at FUS.