Catholic University of America’s new School of Business and Economics infuses an education in strategy, accounting and marketing with morals, character and religious values. WSJ’s Melissa Korn reports. Photo: Catholic University of America.
The Washington, D.C., university will announce the launch of its new School of Business and Economics on Tuesday, infusing an education in strategy, accounting and marketing with instruction in morals, character and religious values.
Created in response to rising demand for business education, the program’s virtues-based approach hinges on the idea that business is meant to foment social good and not just financial success; that’s a departure from a traditional business education, which focuses mainly on how to maximize profits.
“Business is supposed to be a service to society,” says Andrew Abela, chair of the business and economics program, now housed in Catholic’s School of Arts and Sciences and comprised mostly of undergraduate students.
The school is focusing more on the Catholic concept of natural law in its undergraduate ethics course. And starting this spring, its introductory business class will address the social impact of commerce.
In the next academic year, the school will begin overhauling its core courses. For example, accounting classes will stress judgment calls about what revenue can be kept off the books, along with the math behind those revenue calculations. Catholic, which enrolls a handful of graduate students, doesn’t currently offer an M.B.A. degree—students earn their master’s degree in accounting and other topics—though it may eventually do so.
Since the financial crisis, several business schools have introduced ethics courses addressing the moral shortcomings of convicted Ponzi scheme operator Bernard Madoff or added lessons on the social implications of the mortgage meltdown. Yet some academics have said such efforts are mainly cosmetic, and separate ethics from core business disciplines.
“If it’s just added on, it can just as easily be taken off when the student leaves,” Mr. Abela says of existing ethics training.
Dan Black, Americas director of recruiting at Ernst &Young LLP, says his team—which will make about 9,000 campus hires this year—targets schools that provide some ethics training. Interviewers also judge students’ integrity, but the company doesn’t specifically look to schools with a religious bent.
Though Jesus once said it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, “it is a misreading of Catholic theology to think that one cannot be a successful business person and a person of faith,” says Mr. Abela. He adds that the school teaches students how business might serve others—from satisfying customers to providing employment and creating wealth.
Catholic currently enrolls 421 undergraduates and 36 graduate students in its existing business program—just a fraction of the size of similar institutions, such as Georgetown University or University of Notre Dame, whose business schools also mix faith with finance. Catholic will expand its faculty roster and student body with the new administrative classification of a stand-alone school, though school president John Garvey says he doesn’t yet have a target size.
It is hard to measure whether any business school, secular or religious, successfully instills a moral compass in its students. While institutions can count the CEOs or millionaires in their alumni ranks, there are few metrics for determining graduates’ ethical acumen.
Mr. Abela admits he doesn’t have proof that Catholic’s approach will work better than the ones found at other schools. However, he says, “at least we are attempting to deal with the root cause” of ethical lapses.
Write to Melissa Korn at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared January 8, 2013, on page B9 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: B-School Mixes Faith, Finance.