Competence, Compassion and Conscience: A Jesuit Business School’s Mission

By Joseph G. Eisenhauer, Dean, University of Detroit Mercy College of Business Administration

Dr. Omid Sabbaghi (left), a faculty member of the College of Business Administration, works with a Detroit Mercy student in the College's Financial Markets Lab (Photo by University of Detroit Mercy)

Dr. Omid Sabbaghi (left), a faculty member of the College of Business Administration, works with a Detroit Mercy student in the College's Financial Markets Lab (Photo by University of Detroit Mercy)

It is impossible to walk through the University of Detroit Mercy’s Commerce & Finance Building (C&F), home to the College of Business Administration, without noticing signs of faith: the St. Ignatius Chapel, where Mass is celebrated twice daily, stands across the hall from the main entrance. Just outside the chapel, a glass-enclosed cabinet features bronze busts of St. Ignatius of Loyola and Venerable Catherine McAuley (respective founders of the Society of Jesus and Sisters of Mercy), gifts from alumni in honor of the College’s 100th anniversary last year. And inside each classroom, including the high-tech Financial Markets Lab, a crucifix is prominently displayed on the wall.

These tangible signs of faith help to create an atmosphere conducive to spiritual reflection and consideration of the greater good. But the College’s Catholic identity goes far beyond the physical environment. It is evident in the mission statement, which emphasizes the Jesuit and Mercy traditions of our founders, service to society, and spiritual, ethical, and social growth — as well as academic excellence.

In addition to highlighting the mission statement on every syllabus, the College sponsors a half-day retreat each year, giving students an opportunity to reflect deeply on the purpose of their education. At the heart of the mission statement is the phrase, “competence, compassion and conscience.” These three simple words motivate all that the College does, including research, teaching and community engagement. 

Research
In another display case, down the corridor from the St. Ignatius Chapel, recent publications from Detroit Mercy business faculty are on exhibit. Many of these articles, such as “Pope Francis and the United Nations: Planet Partners,” are explicitly mission-oriented.

But a closer look reveals something equally important: several of these articles include students as co-authors along with faculty. For example, Dhruv Patel, a business major from Zimbabwe, who served as president of the student government last year and plans to pursue a career in law, published “Benefit Corporations: Fostering Socially Conscious Corporate Leadership” in the Southern Journal of Business and Ethics with his Business Law professor, Evan Peterson. The pair, joined by J.D. / MBA student Joni Hyska, also published “Human Rights Law, Corporate Governance and Globalization” in the Journal of Law, Business and Ethics. By working with faculty on such projects, students not only enrich their research skills and resumes, they participate in a continuous dialogue on social responsibility undertaken by professional scholars and practitioners.

Teaching
Pass by his classroom on Monday evening or Thursday afternoon, and Rev. Gerald Cavanagh, S.J. can be seen teaching a business ethics class. A pioneer in his field, Fr. Cavanagh pushes students to exercise their consciences by critically applying values to current business issues.

But the required business ethics course is merely a starting point; ethical considerations and case studies are integrated throughout the entire Detroit Mercy business curriculum, right down to the capstone course on strategic management. This continually reinforces the notion that businesses exist to enhance the lives of customers and workers, and that adherence to ethical standards is crucial for that purpose.

To further promote that idea, for one week each spring, the College welcomes back alumni as guest lecturers. Among the entrepreneurs and executives who have donated their time and talent to this effort are corporate social responsibility experts like Eric Hespenheide ’75, Chairman of the Global Sustainability Standards Board, and Jean-Paul Meutcheho ’98, Director of Sustainability at Global Advanced Metals. By engaging with socially-conscious professionals, students develop even greater competence in their academic disciplines, deepen their appreciation of ethics, and build a stronger sense of compassion.

Community Engagement
Additional evidence of competence, compassion and conscience abounds in the C&F Building. On the first floor, framed portraits in the Hall of Honor immortalize business leaders who achieved success while demonstrating social responsibility — role models of men and women for others, there to inspire the next generation of business leaders.

On the second floor are the offices of Rev. Phil Cooke, S.J. and Derrin Leppek, co-directors of the College’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship, which provides business training for new ventures designed to have a positive impact on the local community.

And on Saturdays each winter, a computer lab serves as a venue where neighborhood residents receive free income tax assistance from Accounting students. 

Other students engage in service learning off campus, at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, or at the Junior Achievement facility in downtown Detroit, where they provide financial literacy lessons to teenagers. Several business majors have even developed these experiences into senior honors theses; for example, former valedictorian Kaitlin Avery, ’13, ’14 wrote, Identifying the Connections between Financial Literacy and Catholic Social Teaching.  

The Complementarity of Mission and Quality
Of course, academic quality is a hallmark of a Jesuit education; thus, the focus on spiritual and social values must never compromise educational excellence. This is why several banners in the C&F Building celebrate the College’s success in developing competence, including multiple U.S. News & World Report rankings. The College's graduate and undergraduate Management programs are ranked among the top 20 in the nation, and the College has the 19th highest pass rate among first-time candidates from small programs on the Certified Public Accounting exam.

Such accomplishments are achieved not despite, but because of the combined focus on faith-based values and academic rigor. Competence, compassion and conscience can and should be complementary, and the faculty and staff of the University of Detroit Mercy’s College of Business Administration work to ensure that students carry this mantra with them for the rest of their lives.