Liberal arts degrees are still valuable in today’s job market, as long as students holding them are open to new opportunities and keep building their skills, according to a panel of distinguished Fordham graduates who spoke Jan. 27 at the Rose Hill campus.

Three members of the Fordham University President’s Council spoke to students about leveraging a Fordham liberal arts education in the corporate world.

All three built decades-long careers in banking and finance: James Flaherty (FCRH ’69), Christian LeBris (FCRH ’68) and Joseph Sponholz (FCRH ’66).

Their majors: English, history and French, respectively.

They took questions from students majoring in philosophy and other liberal arts fields. Whatever else is happening in today’s world, many employers still value the critical thinking and communications skills of liberal arts majors, they said.
“Smart employers will value that broad educational background,” Flaherty said at the forum, held in Tognino Hall at Duane Library. He also urged students to keep an open mind about their career pursuits. “Don’t become so narrowly focused now that you exclude the possibilities … that you will be able to pursue if you put your mind to it,” he said.

Sponholz warned the students not to let their thinking be limited by the dominant New York Cityindustries. “This is not the world,” he said. “Outside of New York, there are lots of interesting things going on.”

He said liberal arts students must be ready to acquire new skills—financial, scientific or technology-related, for instance—because of a trend toward specialization in the labor market.

LeBris said the business world still values the ability to read intensively and think analytically about many things at once. He said new opportunities in government will open up as Washington addresses the current economic turmoil. “I think the government is going to be a major player for a long time,” he said. In the financial world, the current crisis will likely create more opportunities at smaller, regional banks that fill the void left by the bigger ones, he said.

All three described the value of the rigorous intellectual training at Fordham. Sponholz told the students it will help them see through seemingly convincing people who are peddling vacuous ideas. “You just can’t blow smoke at Fordham and get away with it for very long. At Fordham, you just have to be able to explain what your thought process is,” he said.

He also said the students would be well served by the moral and ethical grounding they receive at Fordham. LeBris echoed that point, saying he once turned away a potentially profitable new account on ethical grounds. The client was an arms manufacturer who was exporting ammunition to African war zones.

“I just felt, as a banker, I have some responsibility as to deciding who I’m going to have as a client. I don’t have to take everybody that shows up at the door,” he said. Students have an obligation to pay attention to their ethical impulses, he said.

At the end, Flaherty told the students “there’s no reason to be gloomy.”

“We didn’t think we were going to get jobs when we got out of college, so you’re no different,” he said.


Chris Gosier is research news director for Fordham Now. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or [email protected].