Catholic Colleges Growing Ethics Programs
BY PHILIP S. MOORE
February 24-March 1, 2008 Issue | Posted 2/19/08 at 2:52 PM
As the top executive at Chrysler’s Toledo, Ohio, assembly facility, Myrlene Gelibert-Bush isn’t in the business of bringing her Catholic faith into the workplace.
Yet, the 43-year-old mother of three said it’s not left at the factory gate, either. Gelibert-Bush said it’s her responsibility overseeing 525 workers and the associated suppliers who make Jeep Wranglers that makes her faith even more important.
It guides her interaction with her many subordinates and suppliers, “reminding me that everyone is my brother. It also makes me want to do the best I can.”
Her faith and that of others in business serve as an example of how faith is supposed to function in the workplace, said Patrick Murphy, co-director of the Center for Ethical Business at the University of Notre Dame.
Helping Catholic colleges do a better job preparing their students to follow the example of Christ is a reason why he is bringing together an estimated 200 or more educators and authors from around the world to the university’s Mendoza College of Business July 11-13 for a conference on Catholic business education.
Considering the current state of moral formation and ethical education at Catholic business schools, the event will examine what more can be done to prepare students better for the moral challenges they will face in the years ahead.
Sessions will review Catholic moral theology and its implications for contemporary marketing, finance, accounting and management, and the conference will consider the faculty’s role in promoting mission-driven business education, now and in the future.
“I wouldn’t call it a groundswell,” he said, but more and more educators are starting to see their role in the larger context of the Catholic university’s mission. “Some people are definitely further down the road on this than others,” Murphy said, “but we hope everyone who attends this conference leaves with something to discuss when they get home.”
From those discussions can come models for curriculum development, then a specific plan for implementation.
Focusing on that longer-term strategy, Franciscan University at Steubenville has already taken the first steps in establishing an endowed chair for business ethics. The new chair will lead the university’s effort to create graduates who are prepared to be “missionaries to the marketplace.”
In today’s fast-paced and competitive economy, ethical challenges are increasing every day, university spokesman Tom Sofio said. That’s why it’s critical that tomorrow’s business leaders receive the training they’ll need, to know where to draw the line between what’s ethical and what isn’t.
“It’s a natural outgrowth of what we’ve already been doing in pro-life ministries and bioethics, where we’ve already funded a chair,” he said. “This is the next step in our mission to focus on aspects of culture and the world.”
Sofio said it’s still early in the process. “We want to see if there’s interest in supporting it, but we see this as something with potential.”
It’s possible, said Jean-Francois Orsini, but he has been trying to drum up interest in ethics, especially in Catholic academic circles, since 1987 as director of the St. Antoninus Institute in Washington, D.C. Progress has been slow.
Drawing inspiration from St. Antoninus, the early 15th century theologian and archbishop of Florence, Orsini has been promoting “virtue based management” as a way to provide an ethical standard for everyday business decisions.
Orsini said he’s attempting to focus business and academic leaders on the lessons to be learned from St. Antoninus’ reflections on the moral theology defined by St. Thomas Aquinas. “I want them to learn to look at decisions from close-up,” he said.
While his message has reached approximately 5,000 members, most are already working in business management. It’s the business schools he’d like to reach, and that’s been a disappointment.
Faculty and administrators at both Catholic and non-Catholic colleges remain disinterested.
“Peter Drucker made business ethics chic, and that’s a good starting point,” Orsini said. “But if you’re going to take the next step, you have to consider ethics in the context of virtue, and there doesn’t seem to be a will at the college level to do that.”
In an attempt to encourage both Catholic business leaders and academics to take that step, public relations consultant Karen Walker has taken one of her own and guided the launch of the Catholic Business Journal, an online magazine designed to “bring Catholics together to discuss their faith in a business context, exemplifying faith at work and what it means to Catholic business professionals.”
Drawing on business leaders and academics, including Robert Orellana, a lawyer, and Cistercian Father Bernard McCoy, chief executive of LaserMonks Inc., as well as Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer, president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., Walker said she wants to overcome the belief that business and virtue cannot coexist.
“We want to bring virtue to the center of the stage,” she said. Secular business ethics can look to the Golden Rule, “but Catholics can bring an eternal perspective.”
There’s nothing wrong with making a profit, but it’s not enough, Walker said. “Unless we realize that, we can never be true to the fundamentals of who we are and what matters to us the most.”
She said, “You don’t have to be wearing your faith like an armband. In fact, that’s rude in a business setting, but it frames who you are.” Unless business education teaches that, students can never truly succeed, no matter what else they’ve learned.
It’s part of a wider “struggle for the soul of business education,” said Declan Murphy, the first dean of the new College of Business Administration at the University of Sacramento. “The business world exercises such power, it’s essential that we are teaching business leaders to know how to exercise it in a responsible way.”
He said, “That’s why it’s not a good thing to be producing business leaders who are groping for moral direction.” If business schools are to succeed in making management a profession, “We need to rediscover our philosophical bearings.”
Murphy said that’s why he looks forward to the clean slate offered at the University of Sacramento. “We have a unique opportunity to think in new ways, to focus on management as a vocation.”
If he can integrate the Catholic tradition of self-assessment, Murphy said, “We’ll have a chance to address the whole person. We can have students who are doing more than learning the mechanisms of business.”
They’ll be able to look at their own strengths and weaknesses, to do more than meet short-term goals, he said. “They can have a life plan for greater success, to live for one’s spiritual growth.”
Philip Moore is based in
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