Q&A with Michael Naughton and Kenneth Goodpaster: Teaching the Catholic Intellectual Tradition

Michael Naughton, the Moss Chair in Catholic Social Thought and director of the John A. Ryan Center for Catholic Social Thought, discusses business education, university mission and the direction of Catholic higher education with Kenneth Goodpaster, the Koch Endowed Chair in Business Ethics. What does it mean to be a Catholic business school? On the…

Michael Naughton, the Moss Chair in Catholic Social Thought and director of the John A. Ryan Center for Catholic Social Thought, discusses business education, university mission and the direction of Catholic higher education with Kenneth Goodpaster, the Koch Endowed Chair in Business Ethics.

What does it mean to be a Catholic business school? On the surface, this phrase appears contradictory. 

Goodpaster: There is nothing more contradictory about this idea than there is about the idea of a Catholic university. Fundamentally,it’s about placing the teaching and mentoring that goes on in the professional school in the context of certain convictions about human beings and their lives in community.

Catholic social principles have, over the centuries, offered to everyone (not just Catholics) certain basic convictions about human dignity, the common good, meaningful work, a just wage and environmental awareness.

It is important to understand that no business curriculum is value-neutral. There will be views about the dignity of the person, social justice, acceptable norms of behavior, global responsibility, etc. in every course and in every curriculum. The question is whether the institution and the faculty are self-aware about these values.

Approaches to finance, marketing, accounting, human resource management and other sub-disciplines will differ depending on the faith-based or secular assumptions that frame them for students.

Naughton: What is it about Catholic schools and business schools that appears contradictory? That one is sacred and the other secular, that one is private and the other public, that one is about morals and spirituality and the other is about techniques and profits? To assume that Catholic business education is contradictory tells us more about ourselves and our culture than about Catholic business education. It is telling us that we see the world as split between religious and professional life.What is often assumed here is that business is only a profit-making enterprise that must be maximized.

This is, as Ken notes, a serious mistake. Business and business education are not value-neutral activities. As business educators, we are introducing and engaging students in the work of business. And work, by its very nature, is a social, moral and spiritual activity.

At its center, a Catholic business education is attempting to help students see things whole, to see business as a community of persons whose bonds of communion create relationships that strengthen society and promote the integral development of people. It should help students to resist the reductionist logic of single, bottom-line thinkingthat “it’s all about” maximizing shareholder wealth or “it’s all about” maximizing customer satisfaction, and so forth.

Recent editorials have attributed the financial crisis to an M.B.A. education,the implication being that business school curriculum does, indeed, emphasize productivity,market share, profits, etc. over more community building activities. In a pedagogical sense, how do we teach the importanceof long-term value over short-term profit?

Naughton: When the scandals of Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Tyco, Parmalat, etc. were first revealed, there were several essays and editorials turning to business schools asking them “What are you teaching these guys?”With the current financial crisis, which has tended to be less about law breaking and more about distortedincentives, we are seeing similar essays.

There is a fear that universities are simply producing highly skilled barbarians. Archbishop of Chicago Cardinal George noted several years ago that Harvard, Yale and other prestigious universities were increasingly becoming “high-class trade schools” because they operate without a unifying vision to educate their students in the virtues and the common good. When people blame universities, they are pointing to the much larger cultural crisis we are facing – that universities as well as families, churches and other cultural institutions are losing their capacities to serve as moral compasses tohelp future leaders order the good of the corporation to the common good.

Unless we address this larger cultural crisis, in which universities, and in particular Catholic universities, play an important part, reforms of corporate governance and corporate life in general will always come up short.

So to the pedagogical question:While we want to help our students resist short-term mentalities, the solution is not simply to help them maximize long-term profit. Profit is a means, not an end. The end of business is developing products and services that enhance the common good, and developing communities of work that help peopleto develop. Profit is a means to achieve these ends.

To do this, a Catholic business education needs to teach skills that are proper to business: reading a balance sheet, calculating the cost of capital, providing statistical analysis, targeting and segmenting markets, managing group dynamics, generating creative thinking, initiating problem-solving techniques, mediating conflicts andso forth; however, business schools need to engage their students in a vision that helps students to order such skills to the common good and integral human development.

If business education fails to engage students in this process, it would be like law schools teaching their students all about the techniques of trying a case but nothing about justice, or medical schools teaching their students all about human anatomy but nothing about care.

Goodpaster: Pedagogy has to be aligned with mission, and in a Catholic university, that means enlarging our understanding of ourselves and the world, and avoiding the “settling for less” that happens with a reductionist worldview. Our business curriculum must be based on a premise that Michael Novak emphasized in his presentation to our students and faculty in the fall of 2008: Business management is a vocation, a calling to contribute in a special way to the good of humankind. Students seeking a credential simply to increase their incomes need not apply.

As for faculty – and not just ethics faculty – I take inspiration from James T. Laney, former president of Emory University, who, in 1998 said that: “An educator is a moral leader; it is inescapable. …I think that it is most important to help the university to see itself as a moral institution, or an institution that is charged with perpetuating a moral sensibility.”

How do we, as a university, address this larger cultural crisis?

Naughton: One way is to take time to explore our understanding of ourselves as a Catholic university, to explore our identity.

St. Thomas, as an institution, has been generous to provide time and resources for its faculty and staff to explore the university’s identity. For the last 12 years, Ken and I have been offering seminars for faculty and administration on the meaning of the Catholic university. There is a long intellectual and social tradition in Catholicism thatengages the fundamental principles of culture and the economy. This exploration helps the institution be what it claims to be and helps individuals to participate in the mission because they understand it better.

Goodpaster: The educational imperative to foster in our business students an appreciation of their calling and the calling of the corporation to serve the common good should be a natural outgrowth of the university’s Catholic identity.

From its inception in this country, Catholic higher education has been devoted to a view of the world shaped by faith and reason. Fidelity to this mission was, through the middle of the 20th century, virtually guaranteed by the significant presence on campuses of members of the founding religious communities. When we ask how the “identity guarantee” really worked, the answer is not mysterious: the core religious community maintained its commitment through a formation process, shared spiritual exercises, prayer and a visible presence to students, staff and other faculty.

The challenge today, in the absence of the critical mass of the visibly religious in Catholic higher education, is like the challenge facing Catholic parishes when the number of priests is insufficient. The laity must become the custodians of the mission and identity of these institutions.

I am not suggesting that faculty, staff and administrators in Catholic higher education need to be ordained or pronounce vows or be anything other than the faith-filled scholars and fellow travelers that so many of them clearly are. But I am suggesting that Catholic universities would do well to consider carefully the formation of theseprofessionals over their careers.

Mike, Neil Hamilton of our law school and I have recently tried to articulate a vision for engaging faculty around the university mission at several key moments in their work at St. Thomas. It is our belief that a continuous development approach would build community and professional identity across departments, schools and colleges. At each new stage of an individual’s relationships with the university, the university mission and Catholic identity are addressed explicitly, as is the faculty member’s legacy as an integral part of the university’s mission.

The powerful cultural challenges facing Catholic higher education call for an equally powerful cultural response, a response that is mindful of the roots of our educational tradition. A fragmented faculty, staff and administration without a shared sense of mission cannot accomplish the task.

UST students, staff and faculty at both the undergraduate and graduate level represent the full diversity of faith as it exists around the world. In the Opus College of Business in particular, the emphasis is less on faith and more on ethics, less on imposing values and more on teaching good judgment. What is it about the “Catholic intellectual tradition” that lends itself to this approach? In other words, how do we help students learn and discover their own beliefs while not imposing a particular belief upon them?

Goodpaster: The fact that there is significant diversity among students, staff and faculty at St. Thomas may be a testimony to the attractiveness of St. Thomas – not only for the quality of education offered but also for the core values it exhibits as a Catholic university. One does not have to be a Catholic to appreciate the emphasis that St. Thomas places upon human dignity, the meaning of work, the common good and responsiveness to the least advantaged in society.

In a 2004 letter to Marcello Pera, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (today Pope Benedict XVI) wrote: “The tree of the Kingdom of God reaches beyond the branches of the visible Church, but that is precisely why it must be a hospitable place in whose branches manyguests find solace.”

This image of a tree fed by the Catholic intellectual tradition that provides a home and a nesting place for guests of many traditions who share in the life of the tree is a marvelous depiction for us.

In the Opus College of Business, we seek “excellence in educating highly principled global business leaders.” This certainly represents an emphasis on ethics, reflected unequivocally in our curriculum. The source of the principles behind phrases such as “highly principled” is rooted in Catholic social teaching, which derives from both revelation and from reason. As a university, we actively engage the Catholic intellectual tradition, which values the fundamental compatibility of faith and reason and fosters meaningful dialogue directed toward the flourishing of human culture. We need to liveout this conviction and those who join us, in whatever capacity, need to help us advance it.

It is only through helping our students to learn and discover their most deeply held moral beliefs that we have any hope of making a contribution to the common good. Our Catholic tradition tells us that as each of us plumbs the depths of her or his own moralbeliefs, the path of virtue to which all humankind is called becomes more manifest.

Genuine ethical dialogue leads not to fragmentation, but to identification. In our classrooms, this is the goal behind the challenging, probing, generalizing and role playing that are the tools of the trade of our instructors.

Naughton: I think Ken has provided an excellent answer to the question. I think all of us share the desire to be an inclusive community at UST, but we have to be careful that our desire for inclusivity does not result in a secular conformity to the least common denominator.

In his study of Christian universities, provocatively titled “Dying of the Light,” James Burtchaell explained that an increasing number of Christian universities have replaced their Christian missions with a more humanistic or values-based approach. Others wentfarther, from a values-based education emphasizing the particular claims of Catholicism to a career focus and to whatever would increase student enrollment.

What happens is that Catholic universities begin to look like all other universities that attempt to replicate the same diversity within the university as is in the culture. So instead of having an institutional pluralism of universities, we begin to conform to the status quo

A Catholic university has to speak from its center, and must do so in such a way that it invites others to do the same. This can generate a rich dialogue that can lead to mutual understanding of faiths and perspectives. I have had this experience with Brian Shapiro from our Accounting Department, with whom I teach a theology course called Christian Faith and the Management Professions. Brian is Jewish, and he brings the rich resources of Judaism into the course. We do not simply talk about a generic notion of ethics, but we both have the freedom to speak from the center of our faiths and engage each other on our commonalities and our differences.

Students, faculty and staff at UST have become more diverse, but we have to be careful of falling into a strategy of diversity that leads to passive tolerance rather than loving engagement. Rather than engaging such a diverse faculty with the Catholic intellectual, social and spiritual tradition, there is a temptation among Catholic universities to avoid serious discussion between Catholicism and other religiousand philosophical traditions represented in the school. Many faculty hesitate to engage the Catholic tradition since they tend to see it as overly doctrinaire, rigidly dogmatic and anti-intellectual.

Fortunately, at UST, particularly in the collaboration between the Center for Catholic Studies and Opus College of Business, we have developed a series of seminars and conversations that have for the last 12 years invited faculty, staff and students to a serious conversation of religious, ethical, social and economic issues that are desperately needed in our culture today.

If St. Thomas is to remain true to its Catholic identity, it must confront the growing secularism, particularly in universities, that has loosened the bonds of communion between the church and the university, and that makes it difficult for the university to draw upon the theological and spiritual wisdom of a particular ecclesiastic traditionwithout sounding as though it was sectarian in its outlook.

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