When business students are learning the ethics of marketing, they and their professors both have to be asking tough questions at multiple levels, according to Gonzaga University professors Michael J. Stebbins and Peggy Sue Loroz in their joint presentation at a recent Notre Dame conference titled “Business Education at Catholic Universities: The Role of Mission-Driven Business Schools.” The conference featured many of the foremost leaders in Catholic education and was attended by about 250 business professors and administrators from the United States and a number of other countries.
The questions that Loroz and Stebbins outlined range from project-specific to profoundly personal: Is a particular marketing strategy or advertisement perpetuating messages that harm society? Is a marketer’s outreach showing due respect for the consumer—for all consumers? Are there certain products that a professional should simply refuse to promote? Is an aspiring executive preparing for a career of genuine service to the common good?
Loroz said she confronts students with the recurring poll reports that marketing and advertising are fields near the bottom of the public’s rankings for ethics and honesty. She asks them, “Why do people think so poorly of the profession you’re about to go into?” The students are not surprised by the low ratings, and they comment thoughtfully on flawed marketing practices.
One key to making good decisions is to approach marketing situations methodically, assessing the context, determining one’s own responsibilities, and culling lessons that can be applied in future cases, said Stebbins. Loroz said students and professionals “need to get off auto-pilot” and to be asking tough questions in light of the common good.
Notre Dame marketing faculty member Patrick E. Murphy, who co-chaired the conference, said a Catholic school’s intellectual tradition could readily provide tough questions. “Concepts from Catholic social thought, like the common good, preferential option for the poor, and stewardship, can be incorporated into a number of marketing classes,” Murphy suggested. He added that the common good is a principle whose challenging relevance goes beyond a school of business.
“We have to find common ground with other departments”—teaching collaboratively with faculties in the liberal arts and engineering on subjects like sustainability, for example, according to Murphy, who is co-director of Mendoza’s Institute for Ethical Business Worldwide.
The conference, held in June 2008, brought together some of the leading Catholic educators, 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.