PEORIA, Ill. — Rob Prescott figures he's heard all the snide remarks made about the jobs that English majors (who don't plan on being teachers) can expect — from asking customers if they want fries with that to comments like, "At least you'll be able to answer the phone."
As chairman of the English department at Bradley University, Prescott said that 70 percent of English majors wind up in business. That's according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and is just one of the facts culled from his book, "Why to Major in English If You're Not Going to Teach."
Prescott said his book, published in 2010, was a catharsis. "I heard it from parents, employers and others — why hire an English major? We (in academia) have not been responsible in giving an answer to that question," he said.
"The fact is that we impart an executive skill set that's profoundly useful and practical," said Prescott, referring to what an English major is capable of bringing to the business world.
"English majors work in almost every area of business, and many of them succeed extraordinarily," he said.
What English majors learn sets them up to achieve business success, said Prescott, noting that a common undergraduate major among the CEOs of Fortune 500 firms continues to be English.
"English majors read things. They think deeply about what they read. Then they share their thoughts with others in writing and in the spoken word," he said.
One need only look at the seal of Bradley University, developed in 1897, to see the importance of a well-rounded education, said Prescott. "The crafters placed 'literature' at the bottom, at the fundament of the structure, flanked above on the left by 'science' and on the right by 'industry.'" he said.
"What the designers of the Bradley seal considered self-evident truth — the important relationship of literature to science and industry — has often been lost in our generation," said Prescott.
Another quality of the English major — empathy — is also an important business skill, he said. "It's that quality of the human imagination that allows us to see what others see and to feel what others feel. Without empathy, a writer cannot match a message to an audience, nor can businesses successfully market their goods and services," said Prescott.
While extolling the business potential of the English major, Prescott also sees the need to collaborate with other college departments. "The school of business is so generous in providing help to students from other disciplines. Stephen Kerr of Bradley's accounting department created an accountacy class for nonbusiness majors," he said, noting classes offered by business teachers involved business plan writing and understanding financials.
Prescott also joined other BU faculty members involved in forging a separate field of study to encourage business initiative on the Hilltop, the newly-created Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. "With entrepreneurship and innovation, the heart of it is creativity. We're not just talking about start-ups but fostering innovation that can occur anywhere," he said.
To help his English majors move toward a career, Prescott assigns each senior an annual project where they come up with their own business venture or research concept.
Some, like Jared Bartman, a BU graduate who was a musician as well as an English major, turned the project into a real business venture, said Prescott. Bartman formulated his own music website to help budding musicians make demo tapes along with getting information on booking and merchandise.
English Major Hall of Fame
In his book, "Why to Major in English if You're Not Going to Teach," Bradley University professor Rob Prescott included an English major hall of fame.
Here are a few of people he came up with:
William Peter Blatty (author of "The Exorcist")
Philip Jose Farmer
Joseph Heller (author of "Catch-22")
Don Henley (of the Eagles)
John Wooden (UCLA coach)
Bart Giamatti (former baseball commissioner)
William O. Douglas