From Scholastic’s mock of business majors earlier this fall to the conversation you just had in your seminar, bashing business majors may not rival football, but it’s a popular campus sport.
Just thinking of the stereotypes is enough to lift any liberal arts student’s spirits: money grubbing, Natty Light-swilling oafs who enjoy boat shoes, bro tanks, and trips to Banana Republic (and that’s just the letter “B”). “Students” who never miss a Tuesday at Corby’s or a Thursday at Feve.
Your PLS professor or your biochem roommate levels a more serious charge (besides the cheap beer) against the people who never have class on Friday: They’re “soulless” – or, at best, intellectually uncurious. They abandoned a real vocation like medicine or engineering or the chance to explore life’s deepest questions in the College of Arts and Letters to work for “the man” while sporting the Notre Dame Brooks Brothers collection.
If the economy weren’t so lousy, and if parents didn’t want a return on the $200K investment, would ANYONE want to be a business major?
Well, strangely enough, yes.
Like it or not, commerce drives much of modern life. The same infrastructure that brought you your modern lifestyle depends on that scary concept of capital. In a university setting, business education involves the practical application and academic exploration of this modern system.
More important than purely pragmatic considerations, however, are the moral implications of business.
Without penning a capitalist manifesto or discussing the merits of fairly traded coffee beans, it’s worth asking whether or not the business owner who worries about laying off his employees is really so far removed from the discussions of social justice you had in class.
By virtue of its centrality to modern society, business offers both unique opportunities and challenges.
In CENTESIMUS ANNUS, Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote, “Economic activity is indeed but one sector in a great variety of human activities, and like every other sector, it includes the right to freedom, as well as the duty of making responsible use of freedom.”
“In the struggle against such a system,” he continued, “what is being proposed as an alternative is not the socialist system, which in fact turns out to be State capitalism, but rather A SOCIETY OF FREE WORK, OF ENTERPRISE AND OF PARTICIPATION. Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied.”
On an increasingly global scale, businesses cultivate economic freedom by providing jobs and, often, career-building skills. While the shortcomings of international corporate expansion may immediately come to mind, whether they be sweatshops or, conversely, domestic unemployment, these problems only underscore further the need for authentic, virtuous leadership. What better place to foster these business ideals than at Notre Dame? Notre Dame has a particular responsibility, and perhaps a unique ability, to work towards Fr. Sorin’s ideal of educating both the mind and the heart.
Looming dilemmas like the U.S. housing meltdown and corporate greed decried by those Starbucks-sipping Occupy Wall Street protestors are the failures of individuals. While unchecked greed or faulty economic policy may have systematic repercussions, business interactions are not exempt from the standards of other human actions.
The danger that businessmen face is no different from the challenge that we all face to varying extents: to live virtuously, with the common good in mind. The profit motive must be checked by a real concern for the effects on all business STAKEholders, not just shareholders.
It’s painfully obvious that an “A” in business ethics doesn’t guarantee moral behavior, but neither does philosophy, theology, or any discipline when taught within a context that denies that the material studied might actually affect the way students live their lives. A stronger core curriculum would ensure that all students, regardless of major, graduate with both rigorous writing and reasoning skills and seriously engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition.
Prompted by the exodus of students to Mendoza, the College of Arts and Letters will soon offer a business economics minor. Hopefully this marketing strategy will both quell parents’ fears and help ensure that students who declare a business major genuinely desire to pursue one.
The College of Arts and Letters is right to say that a liberal arts education can provide a strong foundation for a career in business; case in point: Sprint CEO, Dan Hesse, ‘75, with a BA in government and international studies. Yet some career tracks require the technical knowledge provided by a business education. The choice to earn a BBA presents a worthwhile endeavor for Notre Dame degree-seekers.
Still, it may seem like that half-asleep Mendoza kid you know from class may be far from achieving the moral heights of business. While he may not have reached enlightenment just yet, set aside those business caricatures, however briefly, and recall the Mendoza slogan, “Ask more of business. Ask more of yourself.” This challenge (not to be confused with the Hesburgh challenge) should extend beyond the hallowed halls of Mendoza. The Notre Dame community – faculty and students alike – ought to set high expectations for its business students.
As students across all disciplines discern their callings, they must examine their ambitions in the context of the common good. Business is no exception.