Liberal arts, military experience offer preparation to adapt, lead

04/21/2014 10:26 PM

04/22/2014 5:57 PM

Scott Samuelson’s recent Wall Street Journal piece titled “Would you hire Socrates?” challenges the myth that studying humanities doesn’t pay.

Samuelson cited a study by the Association of American College and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management System which found that “workers who majored in humanities or social sciences earn annually on average $2,000 more than those who majored in professional or pre-professional fields.”

This finding reflects my experience with the U.S. Army, but I seek to emphasize something greater than an economic advantage. The more practical advantage gained from a liberal arts education is preparation for leadership.

Samuelson noted that the study he referenced “showed that the overwhelming majority of employers are desperate to hire graduates who have a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems.”

The reality is that in the Army our soldiers perform missions in countries around the globe. These operations occur in highly stressful, volatile and uncertain environments where a failure can lead to catastrophic losses in lives, property and national reputation.

In preparation for these missions Army leaders learn how to think, not what to think. While rigorously trained for the certainty they will likely face, they are educated for uncertainty because no matter what potential adversary they study in the classroom, it may not be the adversary they end up confronting in battle.

The enemy in war is like the competition in the private sector that is always creating, innovating and adapting to changing consumer tastes, leading change and innovating to maintain their competitive advantage. The skills, knowledge and abilities of mid- to senior-grade Army leaders compares to those of successful managers, directors and vice presidents of corporations.

Thirty years ago, a U.S. News and World Report cover story alleged that our universities were turning out highly skilled barbarians. The Enron and Tyco scandals in the first decade of this century were evidence of this failing. The argument was that America’s schools were good at developing graduates with an understanding of scientific inquiry and business processes, but they failed at exposing them to values.

The teaching and enforcement of values form the bedrock of the profession of arms. Army values include loyalty, duty, respect, selfless-service, honor, integrity and personal courage. The moral and legal constraints on the use of force underscore the imperative to retain the respect and support of the American people.

After 13 years of war, America’s Army is coming home. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, “Over the next few years over a million military service members are expected to transition to civilian life.” Many of these veterans are highly educated, disciplined and reliable workers who suit up every day, working under some of the most undesirable conditions, and get the job done regardless of the circumstances.

In the end, I believe that a liberal education coupled with experience in planning, organizing and conducting complex operations prepares one for success in the private sector. If you welcome these men and women into your ranks then you, too, will experience the power of values well-lived, along with a strong work ethic and the ability to get the job done, regardless of the obstacles.

It’s time for us to capitalize on these attributes by hiring veterans.

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