[Outlook]A fundamental truth

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[Outlook]A fundamental truth

Education at the university level is largely divided into two parts: the humanities and sciences, represented by literature, history, philosophy, art, physics, chemistry and biology; and professional schools in medicine, law, business, public administration, engineering and journalism.

There is no specific Korean terminology addressing the differences between “colleges” and “schools.” However, the English language makes a clear distinction between “colleges” designed for the humanities and sciences, and “schools” for professional training.

The study of medicine, business, law, engineering and journalism takes places at “schools” intended to equip and strengthen the professional capabilities of students, while a variety of courses in the humanities, the social sciences and natural sciences are offered by “colleges.”

In addition, they provide different teaching tools and strategy lessons in different content areas corresponding to two very different components of the university.

The humanities and sciences aim to help students develop logical thinking abilities by assisting them in building frameworks and structures for learning.

Understanding how to study and how to discover truth, and broadening perspectives on humans and society are at the core of university education.

Therefore, in the United States, a graduate who studied French is allowed to apply to medical school. This is because he is considered to be well equipped with the fundamental skills to be a doctor, while he has had the opportunity to deepen his understanding of humanity by studying literature.

In this vein, America’s prestigious Ivy League universities are trying not to establish professional schools. Princeton, ranked first among top U.S. universities, is a prime example. It has no medical, business, or law schools. The university is wholly operated based on colleges.

What else? Small colleges established for humanities education, such as Amherst College and Williams College, have better reputations than Ivy League universities in America. They only offer liberal arts and science courses.

These days, Harvard’s most popular lecture is given by professor Michael Sandel, on political philosophy. Approximately 800 of the nearly 7,000 undergraduate students at Harvard attend.

Many students gather to hear his lecture because of their belief that sound logical thinking, close analysis and keen insight, rather than simple knowledge, will help them achieve true competitive advantage.

In contrast, Korean universities are acting recklessly, abolishing philosophy courses under the pretext of few applicant numbers, and expanding the scope of the business administration department without real aims, even though this discipline arguably only gives students superficial and commonsense knowledge.

Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple Computers, emphasized that he was greatly influenced by a classics reading program covering Plato, Homer and Kafka while attending Reed College. This, he said, enabled him to create today’s Apple Computers, and he has donated a huge amount of money to his alma mater.

He added that he was an enthusiastic admirer of Oriental philosophy and that his inspiration for the designs of Macintosh computers and iPod came while taking a calligraphy course as an undergraduate student.

The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina, proudly mentioned that she studied history as an undergraduate major, in her address on receiving an honorary doctoral degree from her alma mater, Stanford University.

The chairman of Hana Financial Group, Kim Seung Yu, appears to share these views. He said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on Dec. 31, 2007, “It is such a pity that universities are making frantic efforts to train students for the jobs the industry requires.

“Take a look at America’s prestigious universities! There are only two kinds of colleges, for liberal arts and sciences, at the undergraduate level. All undergraduate students are schooled in fundamental skills in the colleges of liberal arts and sciences. Business schools or law schools are all graduate-level professional schools.”

The university entrance exam season is now in full swing. Most applicants will be worried about which major to choose. From my vantage point after 24 years of university teaching, I would recommend that students pursue studies in the humanities and sciences as a path to true competitiveness.

Life is a long journey, like a marathon. It would be better to study the fundamentals at one’s own pace.

There is no need to rush into applied studies from the outset. In addition, the humanities and sciences are an area in which young people can volunteer to study.

The writer is a professor of journalism at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Jeong-tak
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