Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

Selling the smarts of liberal arts

Do you ever think you'll be smarter than you are right now? I suppose the answer depends on how you define "smart," but my answer to the question would be a resounding "no."

No matter what I do with the rest of my life, I'll most likely be forced to specialize in a single corporate or academic pursuit. Right now, I could converse with ease on topics ranging from modern American art to urban politics, but if I choose to become a neurosurgeon, it seems likely that I'll lose some of the facts, thoughts and ideas that currently make me a well-rounded individual.


While there are millions and millions of exceptions, for the most part, we become less intellectual and academic as we age. This is an assertion that could easily be struck down, but I think we can at least agree that most adults do not read 400-500 pages a week of history, science and art texts, or frequently engage in the practice of thesis-writing. Some of us will grow up to be professors, historians and writers, but a greater percentage of us will become investment bankers, dentists and lawyers.

I suppose this is perfectly fine; who says you need to be smart for the rest of your life? There is, however, an alternative, assuming you enjoy being a student or at least prefer being a student to spending the next few years of your life being a corporate drone. Thousands of consulting firms provide companies with research, advertising ideas and a wide array of creative services. These idea firms are part of a booming cottage industry, and their employees earn their keep by selling their ideas to the firms' clients.

The only real difference between a consulting firm and a university is that the university inspires slightly less creativity and the ideas generated by the university go to no practical use. I propose that we transform the university into an independent consulting firm. We would still do so-called "basic research" – academic research for its own sake –but we would tailor a portion of our studies to corporate clients. A bioethics CD-ROM for Microsoft, songwriting for top performers, a theme park attraction designed to teach students about dinosaurs, perhaps even historical research for Spielberg's next film; all of these tasks could be performed by Princeton students.

It is my firm belief that there is no greater collection of intelligent and creative individuals on Earth than on the Princeton campus. Why don't we all just stay here for fun and profit? The University has two sets of standards: one for engineers and one for liberal arts students. The E-Quad and computer science building are more than happy to entertain licensing and patent agreements with corporations, but I've never heard of any intellectual property agreements that resemble the ones described earlier.

If we are truly moving towards an information economy – one where it is the idea that carries value – let's start selling ideas. We should, of course, also engage in some pro-bono consulting for nonprofit and public interest firms.

I understand the University's desire to maintain its academic objectivity, but it seems silly for us to graduate and go work in a variety of fields where our talents will in some cases be greatly underutilized. We should not have to settle for doing any one job; we should all be minds for hire. The dream of studying liberal arts, learning for learning's sake, need not end with the start of employment.


I realize that this is all a lot to swallow but think it over before declaring it ridiculous. Imagine a world where academic work resulted in something more than personal satisfaction and a grade. Imagine a world where every thesis was published, turned into an educational film, or an interactive exhibit. Plus, imagine getting a check after turning it into the departmental office this spring. Why not?

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »