UW has an arts and business problem


UW’s Arts and Business (ARBUS) program does not adequately prepare students to navigate the business world because the material we study is too disconnected to provide a comprehensive overview of business and too superficial to provide a thorough understanding of individual business areas. 

Additionally, ARBUS provides limited training in practical business skills and limited exposure to relevant business technology, which further hinders students’ success in their careers. 

UW’s approach to business ostensibly seeks to provide students with two areas of expertise: a non-business subject such as English or biology, plus general business, including marketing, finance, accounting, entrepreneurship, and more. 

However, providing students with expertise in such a wide range of business areas is not possible in just 14 classes — the number of required ARBUS courses. Instead of fully understanding any of these business areas, ARBUS students gain only a basic awareness of the many fields of study. 

A single economics course, for example, cannot sufficiently train students to address major economic issues, especially when the curriculum focuses primarily on the technical elements of basic economic principles and largely disregards the influence of real-world factors. 

Furthermore, the ARBUS curriculum does not successfully build on itself. Professors do not seem to be aware of the content taught in other courses, so some concepts are introduced numerous times throughout a degree, while others are mentioned only once and are then largely ignored or forgotten — even when they are relevant to later areas of study. 

In some cases, professors have even stated that we should have learned a concept in another class, and my peers and I have had to study the topic independently to keep up. 

Not only do ARBUS classes feel disconnected from each other, but they also often feel disconnected from the arts majors. Few, if any, ARBUS courses reference ideas or abilities developed through studies in humanities, fine arts or social sciences. 

By contrast, courses offered by UW’s other business programs are more directly connected to the students’ non-business education. 

While the ARBUS marketing courses are general, marketing courses in UW’s other business programs are more directly related to the non-business area of study. 

ARBUS requires “ARBUS 302 — Principles of Marketing” and “ARBUS 303 – Marketing Strategy.” Meanwhile, Recreation and Sport Business students can take courses like “REC 215 – Marketing Recreation and Sport Services” and ENBUS students can take courses like “ENBUS 211 – Principles of Marketing for Sustainability Professionals.”

Science and Business students can also take courses like “SCBUS 225 – Organizational Behaviour in Scientific and Technical Workplaces” and Environment and Business students can take courses like “ENBUS 314 – Sustainable Business Models,” but no comparable ARBUS courses are available.   

Admittedly, arts is broad, encompassing 30 majors and numerous minors. However, marketing courses that focus on content creation could harness arts students’ writing and design abilities, while courses that focus on market research could harness the research and analysis skills developed in every arts discipline. Thus, students would gain a more thorough understanding of certain areas of marketing and develop practical marketing skills they can apply on co-op terms and after graduation. 

But even changes that more directly connect the study of business to arts disciplines will not fully prepare students for success in the business world. 

If UW truly wants to develop multi-disciplinary experts, more than one course per discipline is necessary. 

Rather than requiring all ARBUS students to take introductory business courses throughout their degree, the program could be designed to introduce students to a range of business areas in their first two years and specialize later on. Many of these specializations could be based on courses already offered by the university. 

For example, students interested in entrepreneurship could take courses in Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology from the Conrad School of Business, while students interested in finance could take courses in financial management and reporting through the School of Accounting and Finance. 

Students would still gain a broad awareness of the business world, but they would also gain in-depth knowledge in specific areas that could more directly translate into business careers. 

This approach would also help connect students’ business and non-business areas of focus. As an English and political science student, I would personally sacrifice courses in areas like entrepreneurship and accounting for the opportunity to take more courses that focus on marketing and government-business relationships. 

A marketing specialization for ARBUS students could include the introductory marketing courses already offered, as well as courses that focus on content creation, market research and data analytics, social media and event management. 

For students interested in government and business, the specialization could include courses like “PSCI 231 – Government and Business,” as well as courses in public economics, political economy, economic development and business regulation. 

In these courses, students could also be trained in the technical skills relevant to their specialization. For example, marketing courses could introduce industry-standard design software and customer relationship management systems, which students could then list on job applications. 

ARBUS students are wasting their time in overly general courses that provide few opportunities to develop practical business skills. As a result, many of us risk graduating with neither the technical abilities nor the understanding of the business world necessary to succeed in business careers. Additionally, the disconnect between ARBUS and other areas of study makes it difficult to develop truly interdisciplinary perspectives and skillsets.