The University of St. Thomas (UST) in Houston, Tex., recently hosted a Business Ethics conference for deans of Catholic schools of business, according to the University’s website.
In addition to UST being a Newman Guide-recommended University, representatives from three other institutions recommended in the Guide attended the conference, including business school leaders from Benedictine College, The Catholic University of America, and University of Dallas.
In total, deans from 23 Catholic universities attended the conference, including Creighton University, Duquesne University, Fordham University, John Carroll University, La Salle University, Loyola University New Orleans, Marquette University, Saint Joseph’s University, Seattle University, Seton Hall University, St. Bonaventure University, St. Edward’s University, St. John’s University, St.Mary’s University, University of Dayton, University of the Incarnate Word, University of Notre Dame, University of St. Thomas-Minnesota, and Villanova University.
The conference was designed to “explore ways to better prepare graduates from Catholic business schools for the ethical challenges they will encounter in the workplace,” according to UST’s website.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, wrote the opening address for the conference, which was delivered by his assistant, Fr. Michael Czerny, S.J. The University reports:
… [the] core principles of human dignity, the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity and stewardship must inform the decisions of business leaders so they “produce goods that are truly good, and services that truly serve,” [Fr. Czerny said on behalf of Cardinal Turkson].
Catholic business schools need to do more than offer “a few ethics courses,” Czerny said; their curricula as a whole must be grounded in Catholic social teaching.
There is a “key difference” between Catholic and secular business schools, according to Dr. Beena George, dean of the business school at UST and the conference organizer. The University reports:
Catholic business schools should stand out from their secular counterparts in their “purposeful attempt” to form students who don’t simply demonstrate business competencies but also apply those skills in a way that reflects Catholic social teaching and the idea of business as a values-based vocation.
The conference’s team took a “big risk in this undertaking” because it was both a professional conference and an academic conference, according to Dr. John Simms, an associate professor of business at UST and a member of the conference’s executive committee. But the conference turned out to be an “unqualified success.”
“Ethics cannot be trivialized as the ‘stepchild’ of the business schools,” Dr. Simms told The Cardinal Newman Society. “It must be placed front and center as an anchor for all the other functional departments.” He continued:
A pre-conference student survey we sent out showed that, overwhelmingly, students who see ethics integrated across disciplines believe that the school places a higher level of importance on ethical education and behavior. This may seem obvious, but there has been debate for several years on the efficacy of "embedding" ethics into the curricula vs. using "stand-alone" ethics classes. This also addresses the age-old question of whether ethics can be taught at all. If students react more to a particular method of teaching it, then there is learning going on.
Catholic schools have an advantage in the teaching of ethics, according to Dr. Simms. “In business parlance, we have a competitive advantage in the business school marketplace – ethics based on millennia of study, hard work and prayer,” he wrote.
Benedictine College’s school of business director, Dr. David Greenens, said that the conference “was a great place to…learn about what others called to this higher standard are thinking and doing,” according to correspondence with The Cardinal Newman Society. He stated:
There is little doubt that an ethical filter through which to govern behavior in the marketplace is demanded by our society. That and more is expected by the Church! The relevant marketplace leaders at the conference who were very close to some of the biggest frauds and ethics violations in business history set a necessary relevance and urgency for those of us who teach. As Catholic Schools of Business, we are called to, not only teach business ethics, but teach a different perspective about business and the good God intends for business to do.
An associate professor of business at the University of Dallas agreed with Dr. Greenens that the conference was a valuable “venue for discussion of current business ethics teaching in a number of Catholic universities.” Dr. Richard Peregoy listed a number of ways that the conference was effective, including “Illustrating the difficulties of ‘whistle blowers’” and “providing influential writers, teachers and speakers in the planned presentations and Q & A sessions.”
Dr. Peregoy also offered some ideas about how the conference could be improved in the future, including emphasizing “teaching, research, and writing about the personal behaviors of individuals (morals), the cultural environment (ethics) and the ability to do what is right rather than to do what can be done by right” and making it an “annual event with provisions for continuous networking among the participants.”
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