Faith and the MBA

Four business school deans gathered in an online hangout this month to discuss faith and the MBA. This event is the second of its kind in a series of online discussions among business school deans. The lively and productive conversation gave each dean an opportunity to showcase their own experiences and perspectives.


Below are a few excerpts from the discussion.

How do your traditions of faith inspire the academic teachings and administrative decisions at your institution? 

"We talk about a Neeley promise. In that Neeley promise, we talk about -- we say that we are committed to unleashing human potential with leadership at the core and innovation in our spirit," said Erekson. "So, that leadership at the core is obviously a very core part of what we're doing."

At the Cook School, "It's not just about functional education in business. It's not just simply about making the most efficient decisions," said Safranski. "It's about thinking about how we impact the world and how we impact human beings, both those internal to us and if we're talking about administrative choices, and certainly as our students go forth and become professionals in the business world."

At St. Thomas, Puto said our "mission is to understand what our vision and goals are, which is to educate men and women to think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good."

How do you instill the value of community involvement and the graduate level?

"When I think about service," said Erekson, "it really is about approaching business education for students and looking at problems not of business, but problems of the world."

At Notre Dame, "the graduate program of service works primarily through the experiential learning experiences that we provide our students," said Huang. "We have a course that is called Business on the Front Lines. For this course the students will travel, as a team, to various countries around the world where economies have just undergone some traumatic experience. Something, like for example, Bosnia at one point or Sudan and so on. They have been through a traumatic period. The students there would work with the local small businesses to see if they could help restart the economic engine there with specific hands on projects in these countries."

One interesting program at the Cook School is a prisons program, explained Safranski. "we send a very small MBA class out to white-collar prisons to talk to professionals who haven't always done it the best way, and to begin to explore the implications of how you operate in business."

Balancing the need to inculcate ethics with the more traditional, academic content. 

"We consider it to be two sides of the same coin," explained Huang. "In other words, when you teach about business, you also teach about how to use it the right way, so that they're not independent of one another."

"When I teach economics," said Erekson, "[it] is very much about choice. And, that choice is not just based upon financial factors. Obviously, there are many things that go into policy decision. So, the context, whether you're talking about a micro or a macroeconomic decision, is going to have values inherently in them. And, for students to recognize, if you will, at times, it's one of the assumptions that someone's bringing to analysis."

"I don't see this as a dichotomy," said Safranski. "I see this as going hand in hand. Isn't accounting really about transparency? How do you, ethically and honestly, report results in ways that people can look at the information and make good decisions?"

"It's quite refreshing to see the commonality in terms of how we approach values, and the different aspects of how it's delivered at each school," said Puto. At St. Thomas, "we believe that ethics needs to be embedded throughout the curriculum. It has to fit all the discipline courses. Even, people say, 'What about Statistics?' And the answer is, well, statistics is one of the key places where an unethical statistician can actually corrupt the information and influence decisions in the wrong way."

What ideals do you propose teaching, relating to the nature of profits, products, workers, community, and the environment?

"Business is fundamentally about is creating value. So, what does that mean," asked Erekson? "Well, we obviously have multiple stakeholders. In a business organization, whether you're looking at customers, employees, suppliers, but also the solid stakeholder, the environment. Fundamentally, it's about creating value for our stakeholders and value with our stakeholders."

At Notre Dame, "our philosophy is given to us by our founder (Cardinal John O’Hara), in his mission statement," said Haung. "In it, he said that business is a vehicle to serve mankind."

"We actually say to our students that the purpose of business, the immediate goal, is not to make a profit," said Puto. "And that -- when I say that in public I am seen as a heretic in various forms, but what we say is the purpose of business is to be a good business. Then we define that, and we define that as one who identifies a real need in the marketplace and creates a solution that is effective, at a price that is more valuable than the competition can deliver.

"And then, we say it also provides an environment for its workforce that is safe and at a fair and equitable wage. And then, it looks at the physical and societal environment, in which it functions, and it respects and protects both of those. And, if it does all of those things, then it is a good business, and then we say the reward for being in a good business is profit.

"It's interesting to me that when we think of universities, this is a place to discover knowledge, to search for truth and then to share the discovery and what we've found. And today's discussion just highlights every bit of that."