Ms. Larson, 63 years old, spoke with The Wall Street Journal about why millennials—people born between 1981 and the early 2000s—aren’t so bad and how to make humanities majors more businesslike. Edited excerpts:
WSJ: Millennials are criticized for being entitled and unprepared for the workplace. Why are you enthusiastic about the current generation of college students?
Ms. Larson: I think they’re fabulous. [They] think about the triple bottom line—people, planet, profit—and that’s never been true of a generation. We used to separate civic from professional.
Having said that, I think part of the bad rap is accurate. Millennials have grown up in a society in which all children are perfect, all children get a prize.
WSJ: How do you integrate business and liberal arts instruction?
Ms. Larson: Right now we’re looking at four [undergraduate] courses that blend a liberal arts course that’s thematically related to a business course. They include Capital Markets and U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1945, [taught by] an amazing historian and a finance [professor]. Another example is Legal and Ethical Environment of Business, and Problems of Philosophy. That’s exactly what philosophy is supposed to be about, the gray areas.
WSJ: Since one major goal of a university is to prepare students for careers, how much say do employers get in your curriculum?
Ms. Larson: We work all the time with our corporate partners to get the curriculum right. The first year I was here, EY LLP (formerly Ernst & Young) gave us more than $500,000 to merge accounting and finance for freshmen and sophomores. That’s how it’s practiced in the real world, and [students need] to think right out of the gate in this integrative way.
[Banco] Santander [SA] gave us $420,000 to send students to study abroad. They want our kids to have that global perspective.
Are we going to do everything a company wants us to do? No. But a lot of times they have really good ideas.
WSJ: Bentley prides itself on teaching ethics and sustainability. How do you make those vague concepts real to students?
Ms. Larson: We promote service learning—you get an extra credit [for work] you’re doing for a nonprofit that relates to what you’re studying in the classroom.
Also, a number of kids double major in accounting and ethics and social responsibility. I get goose bumps saying that, having been on audit committees in a post-Sarbanes Oxley world. [The 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act addresses corporate accounting standards.]