Sunday, June 21, 2009

Open for Greed or the Greater Good?

Reflection from First Panel on Commitment to Social Justice

The Commitment to Justice Conference in Jesuit Higher Education was held at Fairfield University with Faculty, Jesuits and Administrators from over 32 national and international Jesuit Universities. Over the next week or two I will be posting reflections from the different panels and seminars attended.

Panel Discussion on Bringing Social Justice into Jesuit Graduate Education

This discussion touched upon the challenges that face administrators in shaping a vision for a program, hiring faculty and getting buy in from all stakeholders particularly students (and prospective students). Led by a team from Loyola Maryland, the heart of the issue that put everything into perspective was - "Do we want a Jesuit Business School or do we want a Business School at a Jesuit University?".

Unfortunately, at first glance it would seem that these two concepts are polar. These days when we think of business it is corporate greed that wears the bulls-eye. Whether it is Eron's accounting tricks, credit default swaps that dropped AIG and others to their knees or predatory lending by credit card companies the examples of turning profits at the expense of the greater good has plagued the business community's image and seemingly produced a corporate culture that alienates the majority.

In March 2008, Jon Sobrino SJ challenged christian universities to play their role in maintaining a preferential option for the poor and building solutions that strived for the greater good. He argued that corporate capitalism and a consumer crazed mentality that stressed the accumulation of wealth were the antithesis of the Christian calling. Where were the economic models that kept in mind the rights of producers and consumers or made the system more inclusive and less exploitative? Who would produce the students that sought to tweak the model or shift the focus?

What I have learned is business is part of the answer and the statement holds true regardless of country, development index or regional location. Job and wealth creation are integral pieces of any functioning economy and put funds directly in the hands of people on the ground. Perhaps the most fitting example is Grameen Bank and other micro-finance institutions (MFI) lifting millions of individuals out of poverty. Individuals who had been left behind or exploited by the corporate capitalist system. It is a great example of for-profit business working toward a common goal for the greater good. The bank, which does has a non-profit subsidiary, has branches throughout the developing world and now even in Queens. Another popular microfinance organization is, which recently announced new initiatives for providing loans in the United States. Many of the recipients of these loans use the funds as entrepreneurs - seeking to build or grow their own businesses.

The most successful microfinance centers incorporate financial training and healthcare in their programs. It is one of the major reasons why all centers are not born the same, particularly given the rise in the industry. There are cases of manipulative policies and even debt collectors intimidating clients - but lets not throw the baby out with the bath water. The industry is still young and ratings systems are now trying to expose the bad apples. Similarly the panel described a relatively new approach of Jesuit graduate programs in the past two decades of "mirroring professional secular graduate schools". The feared consequences are the stress on prestige and success replacing core values of cura personalis (the education of the whole person - sound mind, sound body and sound spirit) and ad majorem dei gloriam (for the greater good of God). The expectation is that business schools at Jesuit University's put into practice their mission statements, strive to innovate and create solutions for the greater good and reproach the ideas of corporate greed and excess profits. In this way they would embrace Sobrino's message and become Jesuit Business Schools. But again, which is it that we want and how will it affect applicants, potential faculty and the Jesuit concepts of inclusion, diversity and meeting people where they are in life? All in all, it was a great start to the conference.

1 comment:

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