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“Business as a Vocation” stirs hope for transformation

by William Schmitt

June 10, 2008


Catholic business schools can provide the driving forces that make leaders more effective and companies more successful, according to Rev. Robert J. Spitzer, SJ, president of Gonzaga University, who was one of the speakers at a Mendoza College of Business conference June 11-13, 2008.

“We have something to offer to our culture,” he said, highlighting an alternative view of personal identity that helps to transform people from “ego-comparative” competitors, hobbled by jealousy and fear as they pursue top-dog status, into “contributive” leaders. These individuals, still possessing strong egos but transcending the dictates of greed and pride, want to make the optimal positive difference for their companies, clients, community, church, and all stakeholders.

Addressing the conference titled “Business Education at Catholic Universities: The Role of Mission-Driven Business Schools,” Spitzer told the opening plenary session that most people in today’s culture adopt the “ego-comparative” model but also want to leave the world a better place.

Catholic business schools satisfy that longing to pursue the good by empowering tomorrow’s corporate leaders—bringing them into the “atmosphere of empathy” that generally characterizes a Catholic campus, offering opportunities for service learning, promoting the standards for justice embodied in Catholic social thought, and encouraging students of all faith traditions to draw upon the insights of their religion. Faith gives leaders the inner peace that allows for good judgment and the expanded horizons “through which to see the human person in their ultimate dignity,” said Spitzer.

Administrators and faculty of mission-driven business schools at Catholic universities have a responsibility to witness to their faith and to model the pursuit of the common good, said Carolyn Woo, dean of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College, which hosted the conference. Students need to see that “business is a vocation that allows a lot of good to be done,” she told participants in the conference’s second plenary session.           

Woo proposed several ways in which leaders of these business schools can make that point through an institution’s Catholic identity. First, they must take the Catholic mission seriously as an influence in their own lives: “It’s got to be up-close and personal,” she said. Likewise, the broader faculty and staff should assess how the mission affects their own “sense of purpose,” values such as those embodied in Catholic social thought should inform teaching and research activities, and the school should provide opportunities for spiritual development that promote “integration of our work and our faith.”              
           
The conference, co-sponsored by 18 colleges and universities, brought to Notre Dame about 250 business professors from around the United States and more than 20 other countries.
 

Transforming Campus Culture Demands Involvement at the Top
               
Another university president speaking at the conference agreed that the Catholic mission of the whole institution must be translated into—and articulated in the practice of—the mission of its business school.            

“The single most important work a university president does is to set the tone for the integration and fulfillment of the mission as an integral part of the work of the institution,” said Frank Lazarus, president of the University of Dallas. Catholic social thought is integrated into the broader curriculum for undergraduates, but it made progress much more slowly within the business school’s MBA program, Lazarus said.

One factor in the progress has been “hiring for mission” within the business faculty, which has included Catholic and non-Catholic newcomers who support the university’s principles. Lazarus noted that a new Center for Sustainability and Ethics has also raised consciousness of the principles guiding responsible business leaders. A sustainable company needs not only profitability and good governance, but also appropriate relationships with vendors and others in the supply chain, as well as sound ethics, he said.                  

The call to human dignity and social justice is playing a large role in the shaping of the entire university’s culture, said Lazarus. Today, the bridge-building between the institution’s mission and the day-to-day operations of the business school is “on its way.”

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