An Investment in Philosophy

In January, a Wall Street investor named Bill Miller donated $75 million to the philosophy department of his alma mater, Johns Hopkins. Not to computer science, not to the business or medical school, but to philosophy. Think of it! What prompted this remarkable and unconventional gift was Mr. Miller’s gratitude for “the value that it had for me.” Indeed, he attributes his legendarily successful career to the “analytic training and habits of mind” he developed as a philosophy grad student at Hopkins.

I am delighted to see this dramatic statement of faith in the liberal arts from someone who is the personification of Wall Street success. In an interview in a recent Chronicle for Higher Education, Mr. Miller said that he found philosophy intellectually, psychologically and emotionally enriching. Even though he never went on to write his doctoral dissertation, he said his life is “a lot better for having studied it”—not the least because of the rigor of the discipline and the critical thinking skills he developed. As he put it, “I didn’t study philosophy because I thought it would help me in my career to make a lot of money, but it certainly has done that.”

Those critical thinking skills are among the many reasons why here at FIT the liberal arts are a strategic and integral part of our curriculum. We are, after all, a career college. Our mission is to prepare students for careers in design and business, but as I say as often as I am allowed, fundamental to the success in any of those fields are the “habits of mind” that are nurtured in the liberal arts, particularly so in today’s global economy.

Some will say that the liberal arts need no such justification—they are good in and of themselves. And I would never argue with that. After all, the liberal arts offer those life-enhancing pleasures we so cherish: literature and poetry; an appreciation of history, economics and art, the plays and films we see. But as president of a career-oriented college, I still must stress the more practical tools that the liberal arts provide our gifted, ambitious and highly focused students. So kudos to Mr. Miller and all those future analytic thinkers who will benefit from his wisdom. Perhaps his singular gift will encourage others to invest in this fundamental building block of higher education.

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