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Catholic Business Deans Convene for Groundbreaking Ethics Conference, Addressed by Cardinal Turkson

April 9, 2014
University of St. Thomas 31March2014
L-R:  UST Director of the Center for Faith & Culture Fr. Donald Nesti, CSSp, UST President Dr. Robert Ivany, Keynote speaker Fr. Michael Czerny S.J. with Dean of UST Cameron School of Business Dr. Beena George 
By Marion Fernandez-Cueto
U.S. business schools, and Catholic institutions in particular, have been doing some soul-searching since the economic meltdown of ’08.
As too many financial scandals demonstrate, business ethics courses don’t seem to be making a difference in the workplace. What’s more—and more worrisome, according to some Catholic leaders—the curricula at many Catholic business schools can hardly be distinguished from programs at secular institutions.
That might be about to change: Deans and faculty from 23 U.S. Catholic universities gathered in Houston, Texas, last week for a groundbreaking business ethics conference for Catholic business deans addressed by Cardinal Turkson of Ghana and hosted by Houston’s University of St. Thomas’ Center for Faith and Culture and Cameron School of Business.
Conference organizers said they were guided by Pope Benedict XVI’s call in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate for financiers to “rediscover the genuine ethical foundation” of their work, and wanted to create an opportunity for deans to reflect on ways to better prepare graduates of Catholic business schools for the ethical challenges they will encounter in the workplace.
“How do you create the ethos of a Catholic business school--this is the issue!” said Center for Faith and Culture Director and organizer Fr. Donald Nesti.
Turkson Invites Business Leaders to Foster the Common Good, Lead Integrated Life
In a keynote address prepared by Cardinal Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and delivered by his assistant Fr. Michael Czerny, S.J., Czerny said core principles of human dignity, the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity and stewardship should inform the decisions of business leaders so they “produce goods that are truly good, and services that truly serve.”
Business educators, in turn, are called to form students who “lead an integrated life” of faith and work, Czerny said. In a culture that often emphasizes the notion that “ethics is costly while cutting corners is profitable,” business graduates need both the formation and tools to “speak up courageously and act as needed,” he observed.
“Real-World” Ethics: An Uphill Battle
But “getting ethics right in the real world” is a formidable challenge, warned speaker Bethany McLean, co-author of bestsellers such as The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron and All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis.
To begin with, a complex, insidious and all-too-human mixture of self-delusion, egoism, insecurity, and greed lies behind most financial scandals, McLean said.
“It’s rarely as simple as a bunch of people sitting in a dark room plotting to take down the company.”
Meanwhile, most entry-level MBA grads are poorly equipped to identify and navigate ethical dilemmas in the workplace, McLean noted; trained to focus on profit maximization and legal compliance, they consider themselves lowly industry “cogs” until they tragically discover “the law is random” and “the cog becomes someone who spends time in jail.”
If business schools can teach students there is a big difference between what is legal and what is ethical; ground their discussion of ethics in practical case studies; and even help them “re-conceptualize” business as a means for human development rather than just considering “the religion of the bottom line,” the long-term impact of those broader perspectives can be “enormous,” McLean said later.
The Key Difference: Transforming Students to Approach Business as a Vocation
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, said Cameron School of Business Dean and conference organizer Beena George.
“That’s the key difference,” she said.
Those ethical values, however, need to be deeply rooted in the Church’s rich theological and philosophical tradition, otherwise they will simply wilt like beautiful “cut flowers,” noted speaker Michael Naughton, Director of the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought at The University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, which co-published the Vatican’s text Vocation of the Business Leader.
The education provided by Catholic business schools should be truly “transformational,” Noughton said, and teach students to approach business as a multidimensional vocation characterized by “good works, good goods, and good wealth.”
Ethics Conference - April 1 2014-77 PR
L-R:  Conference academic speakers:  Dr. Michael Naughton, Fr. Oliver Williams, c.s.c., Dr. Mary Gentile, Dr. Kenneth Goodpaster and Dr. George Brenkert 
The Beginning of an Evolution: ‘We Can’t Afford to Fail’
On the last day of the conference, deans convened in roundtable discussions to explore practical ways to more effectively teach business ethics in their schools based on current gaps and challenges.
Business faculty need more incentives, formation and resources to convey not just ethical principles, but also the “decision-point" application of ethics, most deans agreed.
Others suggested that Catholic business schools must actively collaborate both with other departments and universities as they strive to integrate Catholic social teaching into their curricula and institutions.
Resources such as The Vocation of the Business Leader, and best-practices game-changers such as speaker Mary Gentile’s “Giving Voice to Values” program, an innovative approach developed at Harvard University that teaches students how to act on their values in the workplace, can be crucial in these efforts, many noted.
A white paper outlining the complete recommendations of the conference, as well as a call for a follow-up conference next year, will be released by the Cameron School of Business.
“Hopefully this will be the beginning of an evolution in the way that business ethics is taught,”
said UST business ethics professor and conference organizer John Simms.
“We cannot afford to fail--the headlines tell us the damage that is incurred when we do.”
_
Marion Fernandez-Cueto is an award-winning freelance writer and Catholic convert whose work has appeared in such publications as The Writer magazine, Crisis, and Catholic Digest. She is completing a Masters degree in Faith and Culture at the University of St. Thomas, and lives in Houston with her husband and three children.
Photo Credits: Gary Fountain, Debbie Arbogast
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