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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Business Ethics in Action: Jesuit Business School

Kirk Hanson


Jesuit business education has distinguished itself in many ways from the business education offered by non-Jesuit and non-religious business schools worldwide. My forty years of teaching and study in business ethics has convinced me that this distinctiveness, grounded in Ignatian spirituality, includes an emphasis on five key themes:

  1. the development of the moral and spiritual character of the manager,
  2. the responsibility to use one's managerial skills for the benefit of "others,"
  3. a concern for the welfare of employees in the manager's organization,
  4. a focus on the social impact of business and organizational decisions, and
  5. a special concern for the poor and marginalized frequently left out of the economy.

A commitment to develop these five themes in a business school, and therefore five parallel capacities or competencies in its students, requires a second mission parallel to a business school's more common goal of developing managers and leaders who are skilled in the traditional disciplines of accounting, finance, marketing, decision sciences, human relations, and strategy.

But this second mission cannot be completely separated from the more predictable objectives of a business school. Unless the five competencies are incorporated and integrated into the traditional themes of management, leadership, and disciplinary skills, they will be seen as disconnected to the core educational mission of the business school.

Unfortunately, the distinctiveness of Jesuit business education is not universally evident. In some Jesuit universities, these fundamental themes are as lightly addressed as they are in many non-religious institutions. The mission statements, curricula, and culture of many Jesuit business schools show few signs of the five Jesuit themes.

This paper describes a series of opportunities to engage business managers and business organizations in the distinctive work of Jesuit business schools in addressing these five fundamental Jesuit themes. While every business school seeks to engage local businesses and business professionals in one way or another, Jesuit business schools have a special opportunity and special obligation to invite and involve executives in the distinctive mission. The thesis developed in this paper is that this can best be accomplished, perhaps only accomplished, by enlisting the participation and engagement of businesses and business professionals who can by their lives and their witness demonstrate the integral role of these themes in the real world of business and management.

The Mission of a Jesuit Business School

Jesuit business schools embrace a mission which is broader than that of most secular business schools. This is increasingly important as students in Jesuit universities around the world flock to business education. This is as true in developing societies such as India and it has been in the United States. A 1983 report for IAJBS reporting on a Delphi survey of primarily American Jesuit business schools deans already took note of this need:

"One out of four students in Jesuit institutions majors in business. An even larger number will be employed in business. It is our task to provide these business students with a deeply humanizing learning experience, the skills necessary for the distinguished professional performance, and especially a commitment to exercise power in service of others. Only then can we hope that our graduates will leaven the social order with competence, compassion, breadth of vision, depth of insight and decisiveness." 1

The report continued later:

"Jesuit business education must help assure that the impact of business institutions upon each person in a society is carefully examined. "It must be concerned with creating complex organizational social systems which enhance genuine community, mutual interactions, and dialogue among all levels aimed at assuring the dignity of the individual within the society." 2

A speaker at the 2000 Puebla World Congress of IAJBS put the challenge to Jesuit business schools in these words:

"Jesuit Business Schools must have a soul. There is a lot of talk today about neoliberalism and how it discounts the poor and how it does not care about our nations' needy. You must teach your students that they will be able to make decisions which may be legal in the situation but which they cannot think ethical. Business decisions in today's marketplace should not be merely what the numbers add up to or what best serves a company's bottom line. We have a moral obligation towards the needy of our nations." 3

Individual Jesuit business schools have responded to this need and challenge in different ways. The mission of a Jesuit business school has been expressed in many different ways. The business school at my own institution, Santa Clara University, expresses its role in the following words:

Santa Clara University's Business School develops men and women with competence, conscience, and compassion who can provide leadership in technologically advanced and rapidly changing global environments. The development of competence is reflected in our commitment to teaching excellence and the scholarly research necessary to animate instruction and foster the creation of knowledge. The development of conscience is enhanced through an emphasis on reflective inquiry that is both professionally rigorous and ethically sound. Compassion is at the intersection of competence and conscience, and is fostered through an appreciation of multiple perspectives and a recognition of the human being as part of every equation. (Santa Clara University Leavy School of Business Statement of Purpose)4

The Challenge of Creating a Distinctive Culture in a Jesuit Business School

Modern organizational theory has established clearly that employees or participants in an organization are strongly influenced by the context and culture in which they work and study. Indeed, corporate culture has become a fundamental concern of those who would seek to manage any organization and to influence the behavior of those inside that organization.

Increasingly universities and their many schools have paid attention to the environment and culture they create for their students. Nowhere is this more important than in Jesuit business schools. The topics and concerns addressed in classes, the content of the extracurriculum, the concerns expressed by the university or school administration, speakers invited to speak on the campus, events and awards presented, and even the offhand comments of professors in class or at social functions play a major role in signaling to students what values are entertained, welcomed, and valued.

To create a distinctive focus on the five themes emphasized in this article, the business school administration must pay deliberate attention to the business school culture and the messages, explicit and implied, which they send to students at the institution.

A Jesuit business school also has the opportunity to be part of the culture of the business community in its own community, region, and nation. By its emphasis on the five key Jesuit themes, it can legitimize and encourage reflection on these themes in the broader business community. This too is a part of the mission of business education and of Jesuit business education.

Engaging Businesses and Business Executives in Business Education

From its modern beginnings the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in 1881, business education has sought to engage businesses and business professionals in its work.

The motivation was initially most instrumental, seeking financial support and occasionally political support to establish business education and business schools as part of the modern university. The creation of new business schools were occasionally driven by active promotion of the local business community and its needs. The enlightened university president, seeking to establish a business school to address regional needs, usually found it critical to enlist the support of a committee of local business executives to support his or her efforts.

Once established, business schools found many motives for engaging business executives. Among them have been:

  1. The continuation of funding for the school's operations
  2. Participation in the formal governance of the school
  3. Advice for the school as a whole, or particular departments or functions,
  4. Enrichment of the curriculum and extracurriculum by participation in classes or by speeches outside of classes
  5. Visible support for the institution's mission by affiliation and loaning of one's name

I believe a Jesuit business school has a more fundamental need to engage businesses and business executives - i.e. to enable the school to address effectively the five fundamental Jesuit themes. I have found it may be possible for professional faculty to teach fact and theory based business school courses to students, but I have found that it is impossible for an academic to teach value-oriented content without the help of businesses and business managers.

Only business executives can give effective testimony to the notion that values matter, and that attention to the five Jesuit themes enhances personal fulfillment and most often business success. Most students come to business school with the suspicion, if not the outright belief that one must be value-neutral, if not unethical, to get ahead in the business world. Only by enlisting the real-world witness of executives who have found otherwise can this belief be challenged. Neither full-time business school faculty nor Jesuit priests can convince our students otherwise. Sadly, the politics of most business schools also demonstrate that the majority of faculty have come to believe as the students do. This makes the engagement of business executives on governing and advisory board important as well.

Core Strategies for Engaging Executives and Strengthening the Distinctiveness of Jesuit Business Education

Each Jesuit business school will develop its own style of engagement for businesses and business executives, but it can be useful to enumerate the most common strategies encountered. The following analysis is based on 40 years of personal engagement in business education and in integrating executives into the creation of focus on the five key themes of a Jesuit business education.

    1. Speakers in class. The most common and easiest engagement to arrange is an invitation from a single professor to a single executive to appear in class on a single day.
      1. Speakers may be featured who discuss one of the five themes and how it relates to the course - for example, in a beginning accounting class, a professional accountant can be asked to discuss "the responsibilities of accountants."
      2. Speakers in classes may be asked to address the ethical dimensions of a topic they are addressing - for example, how revenue recognition in accounting can be deceptive.
      3. Speakers in classes can be asked to talk about their personal career and how it has enabled them to serve others - for example, a marketing executive can discuss how a career in marketing can help make products available to the poor.
      4. Speakers in classes can be asked to talk about their own spiritual and vocational development, how they express their own spirituality through their work.
    2. Speakers outside class. A significant part of the culture of any business school is defined by who comes to speak at public forums and what they speak about. Public talks can be organized by student clubs, by faculty departments, or by the business school administration.
      1. Speakers can address questions which don't fit easily into the confines of a course. For example - the personal spirituality or personal ethical commitments of an executive.
      2. Speakers can address broad social and ethical themes which may be of interest to students in many courses. For example, "reducing the rich/poor gap" in the nation or "business's role in combating global climate change." In many cases, students in courses can be required to attend general talks or can be given extra credit for doing so.
      3. Speakers can appear on panels to address topics that are more contentious or on which no businessperson is comfortable giving a fully developed speech. For example, "should global business be bound by human rights standards" or "How has your religion influenced your business career?" On contentious issues, opposing views will increase student interest in the presentation.
      4. Speakers can be invited to give differing opinions on pending matters before Parliamentary or other legislative bodies. For example, "Should the USA sign the Kyoto accords?" or "Should discrimination against gay employees be outlawed?"
    3. Research, particularly Case Studies. Companies and managers have a wealth of knowledge and learning that can help faculty and students understand how ethical and social issues arise in business. Tapping that knowledge can enrich business education but can also encourage business people to reflect on their own experience.
      1. Companies can be asked to provide access for case studies on the five themes. For example, research may focus on CSR programs on the environment or programs for the poor.
      2. Companies can be asked to participate with faculty members in research "partnerships" to explore questions important both to the faculty and to the companies.
      3. Companies can be asked to fund student research or research assistants. For example, researchers could compile information on the CSR activities of all companies in a region or of companies in a particular industry.
      4. Individual managers could be asked to share stories of their own struggles to implement the five themes in their own lives. These stories could be written or videotaped.
      5. Individual managers could be asked to participate in surveys of alumni or of business persons in general. For example, surveys could identify ethical dilemmas faced by accountants, financial analysts, or human resource managers.
    4. Curriculum and program advice. Thoughtful managers and executives are generally willing and even eager to offer their own expertise and experience to business schools.
      1. Individual executives can be asked to join a business school advisory board, advising on curriculum and other programs.
      2. Individual executives can be asked to advise specific departments (accounting, finance, etc.) on formal or informal advisory boards.
      3. Individual executives and managers can be appointed to committees to examine how the business school should address key questions related to the five themes.
      4. Executives can be asked to advise a department on the "unavoidable ethical dilemmas" in a disciplinary field - accounting marketing, finance, strategic planning, etc.
      5. Executive can be asked to help design courses that would directly address one of the five themes - for example, what would a human relations course focusing on "showing concern for your employees" include?
    5. Dialogue on the personal spirituality of the executives and managers. The personal spiritual journey of executives is never finished and there are opportunities to serve business managers with programs and to have them join students in joint programs.
      1. Groups of managers can be invited to participate in a spirituality, prayer, or meditation group led by a business school faculty member or by a campus minister under the sponsorship of the business school.
      2. Mixed groups of managers and students can be brought together in a course or retreat format to explore spirituality questions and spiritual development.
    6. Programs for the business community. In addition to seeking how managers and their companies can become involved in the business school, the business school can embrace a mission to the education of the business community at large. In this way, the Jesuit business school becomes a key element in the "culture" of the larger business community.
      1. The business school can offer executive education programs focusing on the five key Jesuit themes.
      2. The business school can offer a breakfast, lunch, or early evening speaker series for alumni or the local business community, featuring the five themes.
      3. The business school can offer to broker presentations by its faculty to individual companies on the five themes.
      4. The business school can partner with local companies or professional firms to offer community briefings on the five key themes. The companies often want the affiliation with the business school.

Assessing the Culture of a Jesuit Business School

I firmly believe that the strategies outlined above for engaging executives in strengthening and sustaining the distinctive culture of a Jesuit business school can do so.
But given the secular pressures all business schools worldwide are facing, many Jesuit business deans and faculty, as well as university administrators, worry that Jesuit business schools have lost their distinctive commitments and culture. How can we determine whether this is true?

At last year's IAJBS World Forum in Guadalajara, Mexico, Jesuit Secretary of Social Justice Francisco Franco urged that this assessment be done in a deliberate and formal manner, embracing a new ethic of accountability:

"I propose that…the IAJBS could develop a system of external certification in what concerns the Jesuit character of a business school, its characteristic of being focused in justice. The development of such certification may be a great step toward accountability. Jesuit excellence, to be credible, needs to be accountable, to be perceived as such by society, and to be independently confirmed." 5

In making such an assessment, there are several core questions which could be asked:

  1. Does the business school's mission reflect a distinctive Jesuit purpose?
  2. Does the curriculum include courses which explicitly focus on the five themes?
  3. Do the five themes appear as subthemes or modules in other courses? (Is there some treatment in the accounting course of the responsibilities of accountants and of the unavoidable ethical dilemmas of accountants?)
  4. Do faculty encourage discussion when issues arise in cases or readings concerning the five themes?
  5. Do speakers in courses on the core disciplines address one or more of the distinctive themes of a Jesuit business education in addition to the core discipline being addressed?
  6. Do campus visitors who give speeches outside of classes address the five key themes?
  7. Do university administrators mention the distinctive themes in orientation, graduation, and other speeches and communications to the student body?
  8. Do university administrators explicitly discuss the five themes with faculty in designing and managing the school curriculum?
  9. Do students perceive that the five themes are part of the culture of the business school?
  10. Do alumni recall a commitment to the five themes in reflecting on their business education?
  11. Do leaders in the local business community consider the character of the Jesuit business school distinctive and reflective of the five themes?

Whether the assessment process reflects the formality and accountability urged by Fernando Franco, an informal assessment can serve to clarify for the business school's own leadership whether their institution reflects a distinctive Jesuit character. Nothing could be more important in an increasingly aggressive secular world.

Nothing can help more to create a truly distinctive Jesuit character than active engagement of business and business executives in the Jesuit business school's work.

1"Business Schools in Jesuit Education," by Andre L. Delbecq, a report for the Deans of the Jesuit Association of Collegiate Schools and Programmes in Business Administration., 2nd edition, February 1983.
2Ibid. Quotation from "The Context of Our Ministries," Working Papers, Jesuit Conference, 1981, p.17.
3 Fabio Tobon Londono, "Ignatian Spirituality in Jesuit business Schools," Review of Ignatian Spirituality, Number 95, pp.43.
4Santa Clara University website:
5Fernando Fernandez Franco, SJ, "Corporate Social Responsibility in a Globalised World, Challenges and Opportunities," June 2007. IAJBS World Forum, Guadalajara, Mexico.

Kirk O. Hanson is University Professor of Organizations and Society and executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Hanson has been a faculty member and an administrator at both a major secular university, Stanford University, and at a major Jesuit university, Santa Clara University (USA). He delivered this paper at the conference, "Business and Education in an Era of Globalization: The Jesuit Position," July 20-23, 2008 in New York City. This was the 14th Annual World Forum of the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools.

Jul 7, 2008