04/09/2014 02:31 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2014

Business Ethics

This post originally appeared in Sightings, an online publication of the Martin Marty Center of the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Fifty Catholic academic-ethicists wrote President John Garvey of the Catholic University of America (CUA), protesting the university's acceptance of $1 million from the Charles Koch Foundation to support programs on "principled entrepreneurship." Soon 33,000 others added their signatures. Mention "the Koch Brothers" in such contexts and thousands more will add their names.

America magazine (March 24, 2014), the Jesuit weekly, provided pages for Joseph J. Dunn, a retired business executive, to defend President Garvey and CUA's action. The editors also published a critique by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, to discuss "Pope Francis' critique of capitalism."

My instinct is to agree with Sachs and the Pope, and let it go at that. However, Sightings promotes binocular vision and I'd be an astigmatic or a prejudiced sighter if I did not give Dunn and, implicitly, Garvey, their say. And just to be fair to Dunn and, indirectly, to Garvey, I note that they, too, cite the Pope to show readers that they share some of his concerns. The Pope worries, Dunn mentions, about our market culture "drif[ing] into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk."

So, let's forget about the Koch interest for the moment and listen to Dunn's case for integrating strong business schools-and-departments into Catholic (etc.) universities. On many levels, they don't need much help. "Business is increasingly influencing the very size and shape of our institutions; many Catholic universities have more undergraduates in business than in arts and sciences. [Dunn.]"

On the way to stating his case, Dunn issues some zingers, which may not always make a point, but do cause some reflection and, in a way, "level the playing field" where ethics and morals are discussed. Today, let's let him zing his way into consciences:

Many of those disturbed by business enjoy the option to choose the computer on which they write their complaint (Apple, Dell, Lenovo, etc.) as they sip their Starbucks coffee, . . drive their Prius, Ford or Honda and wait for a text on their choice of cellphone. . . ." [Now for the real zing:] "In many cases, those who condemn capitalism or for-profit business also hope that the balances in their retirement plans will grow, that their investments will be rewarded in a way that can happen only by growing after-tax corporate profits. . . . Are all these investors worshiping the modern golden calf--money--or are they prudently saving ands rewarding resources for a future need.

Dun returns to his agenda: "Can our future leaders define the difference. How does this activity promote the common good or affect those at the base of the corporate ladder?" Then his zinging machine shows signs of rust: "Many believe that business and its profits are excusable only to the extent that they can be taxed to fund social programs."

I've cited Dunn because he helps readers, be they Jesuit, non-Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and other examine their own interests.

For thirty-five years I taught at The University of Chicago, when the nation knew it less for Divinity and Humanities and Social Sciences than as the fiefdom of Milton Friedman in economics, and as the university where Business School folk were earning Nobel prizes for concentrating on markets. Happily, some scholars in all these faculties bridged disciplines and interests, or tried to. We hope that such bridging will occur at the Catholic University of America and all other such schools.

Now, about the Kochs. . .


Dunn, Joseph J. "Noble Professions." America: The National Catholic Review, March 24, 2014.

Sachs, Jeffrey D. "Marker Reformer." America: The National Catholic Review, March 24, 2014.

This post originally appeared in Sightings, an online publication of the Martin Marty Center of the University of Chicago Divinity School.

NOTE: This article is not available for republication without the consent of Sightings. Please contact the Managing Editor, Myriam Renaud, at