The Middlebury College Professor of the Practice (“PoP”) program began in 2013. Under then President Ron Liebowitz and distinguished economics professor, David Colander, they developed a program that would offer students a “liberal arts plus” education.  Their visions were not only entrepreneurial but clairvoyant given the modern challenges facing the globe.  Today, the highly popular practitioner-oriented social science courses are designed to complement standard theoretical, social science and liberal arts courses. 

Overview

Middlebury College’s Economics Department has always had a real-world flavor to it, going back to courses in business and accounting offered by economics professor David Smith in the 1950s–1970s. With Professor Smith’s retirement and with the simultaneous movement in the economics profession toward a more quantitative and theoretically focused science, it became harder and harder to integrate business and practically oriented courses with the standard economics major offerings.

Therefore, the Professor of the Practice (“PoP”) program was created to meet this challenge.  The program serves as a connective link and tissue between standard liberal arts courses and relevant skills through which that knowledge is carried out. The program’s aim is to teach students the way liberal arts knowledge is incorporated in the real world.

PoP Enterprise & Business courses provide training and skills, including accounting, finance, leading teams, data manipulation and modeling, and problem solving to complement the liberal arts curriculum. These courses are taught by successful executives who have real-world experience and a desire to convey that knowledge to students.

Program Leadership

The program was initially funded by generous donors (both philanthropic organizations and individuals). It began offering finance courses that previously had been offered within the Economics Department by Scott Pardee, former senior vice president of the New York Fed. Over time, the program developed a set of standard offerings including accounting, introduction to business, management, entrepreneurship, and finance courses.

In addition to these full semester courses, it also offered team-taught courses with short-term visits by successful executives in various fields. David Colander was Head of the program until his retirement from Middlebury in 2022, whereupon Tim Nguyen (through a national search) became the Head of the Professor of the Practice program for both Business and the Liberal Arts.

The Importance and Urgency of a “Business & Liberal Arts” Education

Our program advocates for the need of liberally educated managers to deal and combat social ills (e.g., poverty, inequality, discrimination, climate change, inadequate healthcare, financial instability, and political destabilization) facing modern time. Consistent with the seminal 1959 study commissioned by the Ford Foundation “Higher Education for Business” with a similar ground breaking one sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation, “scholars have long appreciated the role which business can play in our society”—serving as agents for social change and for world benefit.  Even the prestigious American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (“AACSB”) today has consistently maintained that management education must be motivated by strong liberal arts foundations. 

Unfortunately, this philosophical position often leaves the students to bridge the intellectual gap between the two realms (business and liberal arts) for themselves. As a consequence, our program endeavors to bridge and blend the two dominant domains—the liberal arts and management education.  We believe that business organizations should embrace liberal education not as an “add-on” but as an essential.

By integrating liberal arts principles and disciplines like arts, history, and literature into management education while focusing on critical thinking, reading, argumentation, and writing, students will develop a truly invaluable perspective. Through our courses, students will learn the art & science of management leadership (and leadership writ large). Indubitably, we prepare rising business leaders to take on the modern “wicked” problems of today’s times.