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Catholic business schools can make a world of difference on globalization

by William Schmitt

July 10, 2008


Given the “regulatory void” in the transnational business arena, “we have to move to a principles-based, rather than a rules-based, management structure,” said Lee Tavis, professor emeritus in Finance at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. “It’s the business people who are called to change the world now,” and they need moral guideposts, according to Tavis.

All of this places Catholic mission-driven business schools in a position to take the lead, Tavis said during the opening session of “Business Education at Catholic Universities: The Role of Mission-Driven Business Schools,”an international conference held at Notre Dame. Tavis added that Catholic social thought provides a base of principles to be applied and the Catholic university environment provides the freedom—for people of any faith—to start shaping a principles-based business career.

About 250 business professors and administrators from the United States and a number of other countries attended the conference, which was held in June 2008.

Rev. Gerald Cavanaugh, SJ, a faculty member in the College of Business Administration at University of Detroit Mercy, said that given the growing influence of corporations, aspiring executives must probe the basic values shaping their own lives. “Most of our students have never really articulated their own goals in life,” he said. Catholic business schools can provide a distinctive, valuable service by offering the principles of Catholic social thought as the ready, relevant guidance that students need. But the schools also must help students develop the “moral maturity” for asking questions about global companies’ responsibilities and individuals’ responsibilities within those structures, he added.

Tavis, who is also a fellow with Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, said he is optimistic about the future of Catholic business education.

First, as Cavanaugh also pointed out, business is already stepping up to the plate and establishing principled frameworks for respecting human dignity, such as the United Nations Global Compact. Second, Tavis said, this conference at Notre Dame, part of a series of ongoing meetings of Catholic business school leadership, seemed to be grappling more intensely with practical questions of how the distinctive insights from Catholic social thought should be addressed in actual curricula and classrooms.

Conference speakers included some of the foremost leaders in the areas of Catholic business education, including Rev. Robert Spitzer, S.J., president of Gonzaga University; and Carolyn Y. Woo, Martin J. Gillen Dean of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. The conference was co-sponsored by 18 colleges and universities, including Santa Clara University, Marquette University, St. Mary's University ( Calif.), St. John's University of New York, University of Dayton and University of St. Thomas ( Minn.).

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