ORELL: Richard Franke left a legacy on the liberal arts education

By Brent Orell

This weekend, the Wall Street Journal marked the passing of Richard J. Franke, former CEO of Nuveen, an asset management firm owned by TIAA. Aside from making his mark in the world of finance, Franke was well known as an advocate for hiring individuals with liberal arts degrees. As WSJ explained, Franke believed the humanities cultivated openness to new information and taught communication and critical-thinking skills. Perhaps most notably, he thought the study of humanities was an important aid to understanding human behavior and motivation— a critical faculty for successful wealth management. Franke was known for hiring people with degrees in philosophy, English, and theology to complement the technical skills of experts in finance and investment.

Normally, a successful business figure like Franke could be expected to have served on the boards of other companies to help guide development and strategy. Instead, Franke devoted himself to the cultivation of the study of the humanities through the Chicago Humanities Festival, which he founded in 1988. Franke believed that his history degree from Yale contributed more to his business success than his Harvard MBA and sought to institutionalize that perspective through the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities at Yale as a bridge between the two disciplines in the belief that “humanists must be informed by basic insights of science and that meaningful scientific inquiry depends on humanistic knowledge.”

This perspective is a reminder that the achievements of scientific inquiry and market economics, which are staggering in their own right, are intertwined with the outgrowth of a much older tradition we call Western Civilization, which is rooted deeply in the study of the permanent truths transmitted through studies of the liberal arts. At a time when the most common response to a declaration of intent to study literature, language, art, or philosophy is, “What are you going to do with that?” the life of Richard Franke suggests the best answer may very well be, “Everything.”

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