PLS alumnus and political scholar Chris Beem ’83 on how liberal arts students develop valuable professional skills

Author: Ted Fox

Chris Beem

Chris Beem ’83

A 1983 graduate of Notre Dame, Chris Beem, managing director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University, is the author or co-editor of five books, most recently Democratic Humility: Reinhold Niebuhr, Neuroscience, and America’s Political Crisis, which was published by Lexington Books. Currently at work on a book about democratic virtues, he is also a co-host of the McCourtney Institute’s Democracy Works podcast.

On a new episode of the With a Side of Knowledge podcast produced by Notre Dame's Office of the Provost, he discussed the nature of democracy, the role of ethics in a democratic society, and the one thing everyone can do to help make democracy better.

A Program of Liberal Studies major during his time at Notre Dame, he also detailed why PLS students — and all liberal arts majors — are so valuable to modern employers.

"PLS is all seminars, so you have to develop the ability to articulate your point of view on the fly, and you have to develop your ability to assess other people's arguments on the fly. You have to write, and you have to be able to assess these very difficult books," he said. "Over time, those skills emerge as being valuable, marketable. It takes a while, but the earning potential of a philosophy major equals that of a business major or someone else having some direct route to a profession.

"It's because no matter what profession you're in, all things being equal, somebody who can do those things — assess an argument, listen carefully, have an argument without becoming uncivil or unproductive — all of those things make you a better employee than the same person with the same professional skills who doesn't have that ability.

"So it's a mistake for people to think that college is just this transactional thing where you pay us money, you jump through hoops, and here's your piece of paper. Those who are only interested in a profession, fine, go to college for that. But you're making a mistake if you're not aware of and go out to seek the opportunities to develop these intellectual skills, because they're just as much a part of you creating a marketable personage as these other skills."

You can visit to learn more about With a Side of Knowledge, which is available through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher or by searching “With a Side of Knowledge” in your favorite podcast app.

Originally published by Ted Fox at on December 05, 2019.