Ethical Beliefs in the Catholic Business School: The Impact of Catholic Social Teaching on Classroom Reality

By Kidwell, Roland E.; Kidwell, Linda Achey | Journal of Markets & Morality, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview
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Ethical Beliefs in the Catholic Business School: The Impact of Catholic Social Teaching on Classroom Reality


Kidwell, Roland E., Kidwell, Linda Achey, Journal of Markets & Morality


Despite a values emphasis said to distinguish Catholic business schools from secular institutions, a focus on moral development through principles of Catholic social teaching (CST) resembles the prominent role that ethics education plays at business schools accredited by AACSB International. This study measured faculty knowledge and use of CST in undergraduate business classes at Catholic and non-Catholic AACSB institutions and among Catholic and non-Catholic faculty. The results reveal both professional bureaucracy and cultural influences on ethical perspectives: Both Catholic and non-Catholic faculty at AACSB schools have similar views regarding the ethics of professional interactions with students, but faculty with a connection to Roman Catholicism are more likely to be familiar with and to use recent business-related interpretations of CST. Nonetheless, a majority of faculty at Catholic institutions are unfamiliar with CST. We conclude that if Catholic institutions wish to provide an ethics-based business education, familiarity with and use of CST appear to be unnecessary at AACSB-accredited schools. If, however, CST principles are to be important spiritual elements for students who are receiving a Catholic education, then Catholic institutions must increase awareness and perceived relevance of CST among Catholic and non-Catholic faculty.

Introduction

A key factor that establishes business as a vocation is the moral development of the practitioner. Therefore, a crucial element of the management-education mission within many business schools is to inculcate in each student an understanding of the importance of ethics and values in decision-making.

Indeed, the standards of the major business school accrediting body, AACSB International, address the importance of educating business students on ethics, values, and corporate social responsibility. The latest AACSB accreditation standards, effective in 2005, "reaffirm the importance of ethics education for business graduates and emphasize its position among curricular requirements." Ethics is given a more prominent place in the new standards so as to underscore its importance to a well-rounded business education (AACSB 2005c).

Ethics and the social responsibilities of business are also of prime interest in business schools located within institutions that are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic universities can differentiate themselves from other schools by establishing a values-based, interdisciplinary ethical framework to enable their students to better analyze and challenge the world in which they live (O'Connell 1998). Many business colleges at Catholic schools focus strongly on ethics and values in their mission statements and curriculum (AACSB 2005b).

One potential ethical framework to use in business education, particularly at Catholic institutions, is based on the values suggested by Catholic social teaching (CST), also termed Catholic social thought. Catholic social thought has been defined as "the application of Christian ethics to contemporary social issues" (Clark 2001, 6). This framework is based on gospel ideals as well as on a genuine understanding of human nature, society, and the purpose of business (Clark 2004). Values-centered education and ethics-based programs are phrases often used to describe pedagogical approaches that encourage students to reflect upon the spiritual and moral purposes of their work choices and that provide them with a well-rounded perspective on their societal roles.

To determine the effectiveness of this process, it is important to consider the views of business school faculty who are charged with assisting students along a moral and spiritual path. Despite the importance of faculty in influencing the perceptions that students have of business, there has been little systematic research into the ethical beliefs of professors, particularly within Catholic business schools.

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