Forum: Graduates with a humanities background attract global employers | Duke Kunshan University

Forum: Graduates with a humanities background attract global employers

January 7, 2020
David Fleshler


Gil Latz, vice provost for global strategies and international affairs at Ohio State University

Liberal arts and humanities programs can play a big part in building a new age of Sino-U.S. higher education cooperation, the leaders of international universities agreed in a panel discussion at Duke Kunshan on Dec. 16.

During a presidential dialogue on the opening day of the 2019 Duke International Forum, participants said that graduates with a humanities background have the skills needed to bridge gaps in cultural understanding, making them attractive to global employers.

Getting to grips with China’s diversity, environmentally and ethnically, is crucial for those looking to engage with the country’s citizens, said Gil Latz, vice provost for global strategies and international affairs at Ohio State University.

“When I teach about China, I have to go to great lengths to give students the historical context on some of positions the Chinese take and have taken. I can’t underemphasize the importance of that,” he said, adding that the challenge for universities is to produce graduates “with a greater understanding of China’s cultural history.”

David Fleshler, vice provost for international affairs at Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, said there is a clear push among parents and students toward science and engineering degree programs, as they offer decent job prospects. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests employers prefer rounded individuals with broader knowledge.


David Fleshler, vice provost for international affairs at Case Western Reserve University

“We have a visiting committee (at Case Western) made up of a number of leaders in their fields: medicine, different kinds of industry, finance, etc. If you ask them what kind of student they want at their organizations, they will say somebody with a terrific humanities background, someone who understands culture, economics, history, but who also has a particular background in one area, science or technology,” he said.

However, he added, when career officers ask for feedback from the human resources departments at these organizations, they are told employers want candidates with “very narrow” backgrounds, such as graduates in mechanical engineering or biostatistics.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us, as university leaders, whether in China or the U.S., to recognize that, to be both a leader and real contributor, it’s going to take more than just a science or engineering background but a broader background. In many ways, it’s up to us to talk about what that means to the general public,” he added.

Latz and Fleshler were joined in the presidential dialogue by Lizhong Yu, chancellor of New York University Shanghai; Wang Zenlin, vice president for international affairs at Nanjing University; Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for government relations and public affairs at Duke University; and Denis Simon, executive vice chancellor of Duke Kunshan.

The 2019 Duke International Forum ran from Dec. 16 to 18 and featured presentations and discussions on topics ranging from talent exchange and academic culture to the history of China-U.S. educational ties.


Chancellor Youmei Feng and Executive Vice Chancellor Denis Simon join guests and organizers at the 2019 Duke International Forum