Philosopher Anthony Dardis (Hofstra) invited me to share his reactions to Professor Brewer's earlier piece; I'm opening this for discussion as well.
I'm uncomfortable with the contrast Brewer draws between "busyness" and "scholia", between thought constrained by lack and want and the need to survive, and thought "that does not take direction from anything alien to itself"; or the contrast between servile and liberal thought. I think that's actually the wrong idea, and it gives obvious ammunition to those on the other side.
Here's how I see it. There is a continuum, from the need to respond immediately to a threat, to a need to apply a skill, to the need to learn a skill, to the need to step back and think about what exactly one is doing, to the possibility of taking the time to get a clear view of what we are doing, and (in yet further stages, but for my purposes finally) the possibility of devoting much or most of one's intellectual energies to something like the pure consideration of the problems involved in getting a clear view: philosophy, mathematics, theoretical physics, basic research in any of the disciplines.
Some business school professors, and some business school students, perhaps dismiss the more abstract stages of this continuum. This is not unlike the scientists who think philosophy is a positive waste of time. It's not. If Alan Turing hadn't been interested in the question of what is computable, we might not have computers. If Hobbes and Locke hadn't been interested in justifying the scope and limits of legitimate government, we might not have our Constitution.
But a lot of business school profs, and a lot of businesses, don't take such a parochial view of the value of forms of intellectual labor. I would be surprised if UVA's business school faculty at the Darden school thought it was obvious that UVA should shift resources to on-line, etc., as fast as Dragas thought they should.
Putting the contrast in terms of activities that are merely instrumentally valuable because they allow you to survive or make money, and activities that are genuinely valuable in themselves, invites crude skepticism about the latter and comments about navel-gazing.
Similarly Brewer's positive recommendation: that the humanities, and our liberal arts institutions, encourage “a form of reflective self-cultivation that can and ought to be a continuous life activity”. There's a way this fits with what I said above: the humanities, and our universities, help people think about (as Douglas Adams put it) life, the universe and everything, in a way not forced by immediate contingencies. You could call that self-cultivation, since as you change your views about the big picture, your view of yourself, and hence you yourself, will change. But if we put it in terms of self-cultivation, again we're inviting the charge of a crude sort of elitism.
Take a hypothetical student. She gets to take the long view at college. This puts her in a position to be an effective innovator in some market today, say some sort of tech or media thing. Should we think of this as a kind of self-cultivation? She's cultivating her response to the world around her, and that is of course cultivating herself. But her focus isn't on herself; it's on the world around her. My hope as a philosopher would be to help her and encourage her to think at all levels of abstraction: how to solve this immediate problem in her business plan, but also to see clearly (to think clearly about, to formulate a clear understanding of) what she's doing in the world, in relation to the markets, to other people, to what she thinks is valuable.