No business in UNCW’s school of business

Angela Hunt | Editor-in-Chief

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There’s a new mural in Dub town, and it doesn’t belong there.

In a back hallway in Cameron School of Business, a UNCW summer art class took business-related concepts from “The Great Gatsby,” “Atlas Shrugged” and “Death of a Salesman” and brought them to life. Forty-five feet wide and five feet tall, the mural contains powerful quotes and thematic artwork that depicts the characters, and the ideals they bring forth, from each book. The artwork was meant to be eye-catching and thought-provoking, according to the business school’s website.

But the mural is a piece of fiction. The quotes are fictional, the characters are fictional, and the ideals they bring forth–well, it’s up to society to decide if they’re fiction, too.

When we were kids, and required entertainment to keep knowledge in our skulls, we read fairy tales to learn morals and ethics. When we got older, we stopped reading fairy tales and started basing our decisions on facts–facts that came from history books and government documents and scientific study. Then, we were taught to evaluate the strength and accuracy of those facts in a process UNCW strongly emphasizes in its curriculum: critical thinking.

Sure, some of the books represented by the mural were based on real events in American history. But that makes them historical-fiction–not business ethics 101. The business school doesn’t teach literary themes any more than an English class teaches the morals of running a business. We don’t teach history using fiction, or science using fiction, or marketing using fiction. Should the business school use fiction to teach economic theory?

The books themselves represent more than business ideas, but ideologies of a society that has continuously struggled for an economic identity. Some of these ideologies were inspired or later adopted by political organizations. Our business school shouldn’t be doing the same.

Let me give you some background. Ayn Rand, author of “Atlas Shrugged,” was an anti-communist whose writing always had an economic moral undertone. Atlas Shrugged was science fiction, set in the future and designed to scare people away from socialism. It didn’t work in the beginning, receiving terrible reviews from literary critics for character monologues of biblical proportions. But after she died, a foundation was formed in her name that publicized her books.

It worked. I saw “Who is John Galt?” on a billboard the other day, a famous quote from “Atlas Shrugged.” You don’t have to know the meaning behind it to know that someone, or a group of people, with money put it up on a billboard. The quote has ties to extremist groups that believe that our country is headed in a communist direction. It also has ties to the Republican party.

Paul Ryan, Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate in the upcoming presidential election, has economic views that identify with Ayn Rand.

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism,” Ryan said in a 2005 speech.

When I look at this new mural in the business school, I wonder if it represents what students are learning in the classroom there. I wonder if professors provoke debate among their students. “Individualism or collectivism, that is the question,” they would say. Just like in biology, when professors ask their students if the world is really ending in 2012.

Oh wait. They don’t.

The mural does exactly what its supposed to do: catch the eye, and provoke thought. But its doing it in the wrong place. Maybe it belongs in the creative writing building, or a communication studies hallway.

You know what I’d like to see? A mural of actual historical happenings, things that should provoke the thoughts of business majors. What about an artistic depiction of FDR’s New Deal, or Reaganomics, or the Commerce Clause? What about a photography exhibit of the homeless or the unemployed, meant to show the effects of bad economic policy?

I read “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Great Gatsby” and “Death of a Salesman.” They were good books written for non-business majors, like me, who need context to understand complex economic theory. They were exaggerations written to make a point–in essence, fairy tales.

A mural of fairy tales has no business in our school of business.