Jesuit Skeptic

How One Jesuit Mission Skeptic Was Won Over

Written by Daniel Blakley

After attending two conferences on the state of the Jesuit mission in higher education, at least one self-described hardened USF business professor says it’s up to lay people from across all disciplines to carry on the tradition.

For many years I have believed that the business school played a background role in advancing the Jesuit mission at USF. Value creation was the domain of the general education curriculum required of all students, and these courses were, by intent and design, exclusively the responsibility of liberal arts, never business.

My contribution to the Jesuit mission, I was convinced, was to prepare students for a successful professional career. Defining the scope, depth, and rigor of academic topical coverage and effectively conveying it were my sole concerns. I took a dim view to distracting extracurricular activities and student study-tours (which I have always referred to as ‘social functions' and ‘nude cruises,’ respectively). Worst of all, and of this I am particularly ashamed, I often in a joking way chided the logic and analysis included in MBA student papers. If I felt they drifted into arguments based on flimsy opinion or subjective value application, they received my well-known customary scribble, “over-reliant on i.e., MTS” (i.e., irrational emotional, Mindless Thought Substitutes). Of this, above all, I am especially sorry and I owe many students a sincere heart-felt apology.

I now realize advancing the Jesuit mission is a shared responsibility of all academic departments and colleges within the university—but especially the business school. My eyes have been opened to the realization that student absorption of life-changing and world-saving Jesuit values can be greatly enhanced with properly designed non-academic experiences—and, again, the business school is ground-zero for such undertakings. In short, I firmly believe the time is now for the business school faculty at USF to step up and play their natural leading role in educating values-based agents of meaningful social change.

So what led to such a dramatic change in my thinking?

Between April and July of this year I had the good fortune to attend two Jesuit higher education conferences; the first was primarily attended by university presidents, and the second by business school deans. To be honest, it was not until I accepted the offer to write this article and How One Jesuit Mission Skeptic Was Won Over By Daniel Blakley After attending two conferences on the state of the Jesuit mission in higher education, at least one self-described hardened USF business professor says it's up to lay people from across all disciplines to carry on the tradition. Inspired by what he learned, he's already mapping out the changes he's going to make for his students. report on the proceedings that I realized how much these two conferences changed my deep-rooted views about the Jesuit mission. My long-held beliefs concerning the educational experience at USF and the various supporting roles played by our Jesuit mission, academic disciplinebased course material, and extra-curricular activities are, I now realize, radically altered.

Prior to my attendance at these meetings, I believed the Jesuit mission was singularly devoted to issues of social justice in general and, in particular, promotion of more humane treatment of the disadvantaged and egalitarian distribution of societal wealth and opportunity. Further, I have always assumed the manner by which these universal goals were advanced in higher education involved rigorous study of philosophy, theology, and religion. I returned from these conferences with a very different mind-set, to say the least.

In my 28-year tenure at USF as a professor of economics in the School of Business and Professional Studies, I have never attended such prominent gatherings. Most of my time and effort has naturally been invested in my students, my research, and the conveyance and exploration of a very narrow body of knowledge. I have never had the opportunity to take leave for an administrative posting.

These circumstances may help illustrate how awkward it was for this wayward lay professor to be suddenly involved with intense discussions concerning the broad dynamics of the Jesuit mission and the many challenges and opportunities facing Jesuit higher education —as seen from the perspective of university leaders and top administrators. It was particularly startling to witness high-level discussions of the expanding responsibilities professional schools and off-campus student activities have in providing our students a lasting and, ultimately world-changing, values-based education.

Mexico City—Shaping the Future: Networking Jesuit Higher Education for a Globalizing Worl

USF President Stephen A. Privett, S.J. invited me to accompany him to the 31st Annual Meeting of Jesuit University Presidents April 21–25 at the Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de Mexico. I was initially puzzled as to why I had been given this valuable opportunity and ended up thinking the president might have been aware of my on-going unsuccessful attempts to find an academic posting in Latin America as part of my 2011 sabbatical leave. He was, I assumed, simply lending me a helping hand—but of course I'm not certain. (Incidentally, as a direct result of this conference, my goal in this regard has been achieved.) Also, I was initially a bit worried about what my responsibilities might entail at such a conference. I did not want to find myself with sole responsibility for representing the university—after all, I have long considered myself a fairly one-dimensional ‘out-of-theloop’ academic economist. After receiving his personal assurance that he would indeed be attending, I gratefully accepted the offer.

More than 200 Jesuit colleges were represented with participants travelling from Africa, South and East Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America. The broad objectives of the conference were: 1. review opportunities and challenges facing Jesuit higher education; 2. develop formal networks between universities that promote a more just and sustainable world; and 3. design strategies that advance the Jesuit tradition in preparing professionals who are well-educated and the real-world applicability of values-based organized activity, it was generally agreed, can provide valuable life-lasting experiences.

Conference organizers cleverly allowed these and other complex issues to be discussed in more depth by periodically breaking down conference attendees into small groups charged with developing operational action items in response to the strategic issues and challenges raised in the plenary session presentations. These proposals were collected, summarized, and presented in the closing session of the conference.

Looking back, it was probably the ideas put forth after rumination within these working group sessions that provided the greatest value for conference attendees, and the greatest bearing on my change of thinking. To begin with—and I can't help but mention this up front —rather than dwelling on the many horrors and adverse by-products associated with capitalist-driven economic systems, several participants argued that, given the profound social and environmental implications, students would benefit greatly from having a better understanding of the efficiency, discipline and, yes, negative externalities associated with profit-seeking competition and free markets. Several attendees, including myself, argued such academic coverage should be included in the common body of knowledge curriculum required of all students. In general, it was agreed, Jesuit universities need to more openly accept the teaching of business economics and other administrative and management skills as acceptable disciplines within the Jesuit academic umbrella. This line of reasoning to me suggests that the ultimate effectiveness of values-based education would likely be enhanced if professional schools were more inclusive (and conscious of their role) in the overall Jesuit mission.

Finally, in the conference wrap-up session, different groups were in near unanimity in putting forth proposals in support of values-based learning projects. For example, alien environment exposures (i.e., exposure to different socio-economic segments of society) or social entrepreneurship experiences were suggested to supplement traditional instruction and, of course in my group especially, the business school was identified as a natural launching point for organizing student project teams and identifying project opportunities. I also believe every group, in some form or another, accepted information technology as a significant ally, not a hindrance, in creating these value-enhancing extra-curricular experiences. An earlier segment of the conference unveiled and showcased a new website, www.JesuitCommons.org, recently launched to create a virtual meeting space for the community of Jesuit universities. There was widespread support for taking advantage of this online resource to facilitate communication and collaboration in defining and managing these off-campus experiences. willing to accept and act upon the serious contemporary problems facing the entire human family. Topics, far too many to even begin mentioning, were methodically discussed, dissected, and debated. I would, however, like to draw attention to several strategic issues that stand out as being particularly interesting and relevant to USF and, incidentally, played a significant role in my new point of view.

At this first conference, I was happy to discover that the traditional values I long associated with Jesuit education, which many years ago caught my idealistic eye and distinguished the university to which I have proudly devoted my career, are very much inclusive of critical social concerns involving environmental degradation and sustainability. As one conference speaker bluntly put it, scientists have estimated that at current rates of resource depletion, it would take an estimated 5.3 worlds to support the current global population at the standard of living enjoyed in the United States today. In other words, aspiring to reduce poverty is clearly irrational without simultaneous goals devoted to environmental sustainability. Indeed, such a view was widely accepted and supported and the need for action concerning the environment was a recurring theme throughout the conference.

Similarly, and for obvious reasons, conference participants seemed to effortlessly accept the fact that lay faculty and administrators, today and in the future, will be required to assume larger responsibilities in preserving the long-established educational values associated with the Jesuit mission. Compounding this challenge was acknowledgement of the continued decline of students majoring in classical studies (i.e., liberal arts) due to the increased demand (prompted by students, parents, and employers) for academic majors with perceived professional relevance (e.g., business). In short, traditional conduits by which Jesuit universities have historically conveyed the intellectual components of a values-based education are becoming less available.

Predictable grievances associated with the overwhelming presence of information technology— including social networking and instantaneous access to already processed information—and its impact on student learning and the educational process were vented at some length. Concern was voiced that—what some referred to as—ubertech is interfering with attainment of traditional Jesuit educational goals by, for example, covertly promoting consumer-based cultural values, diffusing the traditional common-knowledge/shared learning experience, and lessening the development of creative thinking, self-contemplation, and critical analysis skills.

Of particular interest to me was the significant portion of the conference devoted to alleged missed opportunities due to relying exclusively on classroom-based instruction to convey values-based elements of Jesuit education. Several conference presentations suggested that supplementing conventional academic exposure with some form of real-world non-classroom experience may significantly enhance values-based learning. Examples include off-campus service learning exposure to different socio-economic segments of society and/or student social entrepreneurship business plans involving issues of social justice, poverty reduction, or environmental sustainability. Such universitysponsored, student-led endeavors designed specifically to demonstrate in educating for the at USF to 36

Manila—Educating Champions of Sustainable Development: Best Practices of Business Schools

Upon my return from Mexico City, I welcomed an equally unexpected invitation to accompany Mike Duffy, dean of the School of Business and Professional Studies, to the 16th World Forum of the International Association of Jesuit Business School Deans at the Ateneo de Manila University.

This meeting took place July 18–21 and included 90 delegates representing 43 colleges from 14 countries. As with the meeting of the presidents, attendees were distributed from around the world and topics presented and discussed were broad and varied. The primary focus was on developing values-based business curricula, with a particular emphasis on environmental sustainability. Indeed, much of the conference showcased best practices involving non-classroom valueapplication experiences from schools around the world.

The agreed upon action items put forth by these working groups were remarkably similar to those of the presidents’ meeting. They included many examples of off-campus, values-based learning experiences and student-led campus organizations—exclusively business schoolbased— and the opportunity to showcase the significant contributions they make in advancing values associated with the Jesuit mission.

Several things stand out to me as particularly interesting. I could not help but notice from the beginning and throughout the enthusiasm and excitement, if not outright exuberance, of nearly every presenter and participant. Also, the various schools were ready and anxious to act —and this was especially astonishing to me given my many years of experience with faculty committee coordination and cooperation—in several of the identical areas identified just 12 weeks earlier in Mexico City. Eerily, it was as if many conference participants (not just me) had been silent observers at the earlier meeting. No matter how, they seemed fully prepared to take concrete actions on the presumptive mandate from the presidents' conference that business schools should prepare themselves to assume a larger role in the Jesuit mission. The question was, as one speaker put it, not so much what needed to be done, but how and when it would be accomplished.

Also of interest was a recurring sub-theme of the plenary sessions and many of the smaller group discussions. Business education in general, and the Jesuit business school in particular, is beginning a period of necessary and radical transformation, and there is no going back. Further, this drastic notion was not just passively accepted, but was enthusiastically applauded and vocally supported many times in the course of the three-day conference.

What actually prompted, I wondered, the revelation that business higher education was so in need of revolutionary change? I was somewhat surprised to find the “revolution” was not exclusively inspired by the near collapse of the global financial system in 2008 and the well-known widespread ethical lapses in management, corporate governance and, perhaps, even regulatory behavior underlying the crisis. Nor did it seem to me that the ever growing number of articles in the Wall Street Journal describing energy-related and natural resource bottlenecks, climate change, food and clean water shortages, or the miscellaneous and numerous environmental catastrophes linked to corporate actions—several of which were discussed at length in my working group—provided a satisfactory explanation.

Another possible explanation presented itself. As one speaker noted, corporate leaders today, as well as financial markets and investors themselves, are actually demanding change in corporate behavior and management education. The results of a recent survey were presented that show 75 percent of CEOs believe executives today must have training and capabilities to deal with resource scarcity, carbon emissions, and issues related to emerging markets. More than 90 percent believe environmental sustainability is an important top-management concern, and 88 percent believe that business schools must develop and impart the knowledge and skills necessary to deal with such demands.

Concerning pressure for change from the financial markets, it was noted that the Principles for Responsible Investment, a large-scale investor initiative (in partnership with the U.N. Environmental Protection Finance Initiative), is estimated to have already accumulated socially and environmentally conscious investment funds in excess of $20 trillion, with continued rapid growth expected. It was generally agreed, despite their growing global power and influence, that even companies and markets seem to be joining the chorus in calling on business schools to adapt more socially responsible and environmentally sustainable studies.

Supporting this call for change was the recognition that an evergrowing number of business schools, as well the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB, the powerful and influential accreditation body for top business schools), are affiliating themselves with The Global Compact Academic Network. This relatively new association, launched at the 2007 Global Compact Leaders Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, includes an extensive collection of academic institutions that are encouraged to participate in the Principles for Responsible Management Education, a mission and goals statement promoting the education of a future generation of leaders who strive to promote sustainable values for business and society.

However, especially concerning Jesuit business schools, I firmly believe the impetus for radical curriculum change is not merely the fashionable perceived need to respond to recent external pressures, or even the sudden presence and popularity of newly created global organizations available to support such change. The new generation of Jesuit business school deans represented at this conference, I am convinced, is motivated by a new opportunity to advance established Jesuit ideals of cultivating and enlightening the whole person via a values-based educational experience. Jesuit business schools have long been mission driven, and they find themselves today in an advantageous position— both individually within their institutions and collectively within the business education marketplace—to contribute to that mission and address the pressing needs of the global community.

The closing session of the conference was devoted to exploring ways in which business schools could step up and play a larger, if not leading, role within their university in advancing the Jesuit mission. As with the presidents, the deans also recognized the great as of yet unrealized potential and educational benefits associated with further development of the network of Jesuit universities via www.JesuitCommons.org.

The impact of attending both of these conferences has been profound. I will forever strongly encourage students to constantly apply their values to all aspects of their lives—including even their MBA coursework. Indeed, it is irrational not to do so—our future world depends on it.

Daniel BlakleyDaniel Blakley, professor of economics, has taught at USF since 1981. He received his doctorate in economics from Duke University in 1982, and has received Fulbright fellowships to teach in London and Norway. His areas of research include Japanese price deflation, inflation in South Africa, and the effects of macroeconomic instability and inflation on real growth in South African firms. He has twice received USF’s award for teaching excellence as selected by his students.

 

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