Value Added? the Jury's out on Whether Catholic Law and Business Schools Give Students a Higher Degree of Faith

By Scanlon, Leslie | U.S. Catholic, February 2011 | Go to article overview

Value Added? the Jury's out on Whether Catholic Law and Business Schools Give Students a Higher Degree of Faith


Scanlon, Leslie, U.S. Catholic


When Brian Chan was applying to graduate business schools in 2002, finding a Catholic university was not on his wish list at all.

"I applied to the programs that had the biggest names--Harvard, Stanford, Wharton," Chan says. "I didn't consider whether they were Catholic or not. I went for the higher rankings."

But now, five years after earning a master's in business administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Chan has started the Catholic MBA Network, an online group that tries to connect Catholic business students and alumni. Chan says faith has become more important to him in the years since graduation, when he entered "the real adult world."

Now he's trying to help Catholic business students think a little more intentionally about the role that faith plays in their education--a question that at least some professors at Catholic professional schools are encouraging their institutions to think about, too.

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For the most part, the depth of a professional school's Catholic identity is not a raging conversation on campuses today, although it can be heard at muted levels if one listens carefully in the right places. In many ways Catholic professional schools look remarkably like their secular counterparts--with religious diversity both in the student populations and among the faculty, and with instruction focused on the technical competencies required in the field.

At Loyola University Chicago School of Law, for example, Catholics make up a "distinct minority" of the tenure track faculty--fewer than a quarter, says law professor John Breen. At many Catholic universities, "the conversation [about Catholic identity] is avoided," Breen says. "It doesn't come up. And when it does come up, it's addressed on a very superficial level."

While many Catholic universities teach legal or business ethics or offer legal clinics to serve low-income clients, many state and private universities do so as well. But there are also some campuses where a sense of explicitly Catholic identity may be more evident.

"Many students come to Notre Dame because of its identity as a Catholic place," says former law school dean and professor emeritus Thomas Shaffer. And he contends there's a value to that identity. Catholic law and business schools can provide a "freer discussion atmosphere" in which subjects such as morality, ethics, and justice aren't considered off-limits.

The conversation about identity in Catholic professional schools is also bringing together scholars from a variety of campuses, and in some cases a variety of religious traditions, to talk intentionally about the ways that the Catholic intellectual tradition can inform the teaching of business and law.

Notre Dame hosted a 2008 conference on "The Role of Mission-Driven Business Schools" at Catholic universities. And each year the Summer Institute on Catholic Social Thought and the Law brings together about 30 law professors from around the country. Amy Uelmen, director of the Institute on Religion, Law, and Lawyer's Work at Fordham University, describes it as a "very vibrant, cross-school discussion" about how a religious dimension can inform legal teaching and scholarship.

Those professors are not necessarily Catholic, she says. "Part of the challenge is to be open to the unexpected in terms of the kinds of people who will resonate with these ideas."

Mission-driven degree

At Boston College Law School, associate professor Father Gregory Kalscheur, S.J. gives an orientation address each year for the incoming first-year students. He reminds them that Boston College was founded by the Jesuits and asks them to answer two questions: "What are the hopes and desires of my heart that have called me to enter law school?" and "Who am I becoming as a person as I enter more deeply into the life of the law?"

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These kind of questions spoke to Erin O'Neill, who graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 2010. …

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