In Pursuit of Business Education for Justice

By Dr. Rose Sebastianelli, Professor of Operations and Information Management and Alperin Endowed Chair in Business Administration, University of Scranton

Dr. Rose Sebastianelli (Photo by University of Scranton)

Dr. Rose Sebastianelli (Photo by University of Scranton)

What does it mean to be a Jesuit business school? What role should business faculty play in fostering Jesuit ideals? What are the objectives of a mission-inspired project in teaching? How can the scholarly output of business faculty contribute to the Jesuit mission?

These were some of the questions examined by a small group of faculty in the Kania School of Management (KSOM) at the University of Scranton, who took part in the Business Education for Justice Seminar, which I organized and led with support from the University’s Jesuit Center and the KSOM dean, Michael Mensah, Ph.D., as the “capstone project” for the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP).

Inspiration from the Ignatian Colleagues Program
Under the auspices of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), ICP is an 18-month program “designed to educate and form administrators and faculty more deeply in the Jesuit and Catholic tradition of higher education.” It includes online workshops, reflection papers, seminars and an immersion trip to the United States / Mexico border through the KINO Border Initiative. ICP concludes with a “capstone experience” in which participants plan projects for advancing mission on their own campuses.

Participating in the ICP motivated me, a full professor with almost 30 years of service to Scranton, to understand more fully the Ignatian tradition and consider the ways in which it could (and should) impact my work going forward. In addition to providing a Jesuit-inspired education to students, I wanted to ensure Ignatian values would be passed onto future generations. This would require collaboration with colleagues to create a critical mass of KSOM faculty committed to fulfilling the Jesuit mission through the “service of faith and promotion of justice.” I wanted to exploit the “multiplier” effect so that Ignatian values could be shared as broadly as possible, with colleagues, students, alumni and the business community. I also wanted to include newly-hired faculty with the potential to contribute to the Jesuit mission for many years to come. These goals informed the design of the Business Education for Justice Seminar.

Seminar included education, reflection and action
The Business Education for Justice Seminar involved three components. The first was educational, fostering a deep understanding of Ignatian identity and the Jesuit tradition through carefully selected readings and guided discussion. The second was reflective, encouraging the exploration of what it means to be a Jesuit business school and the role of KSOM faculty in promoting Jesuit ideals. The third involved action, developing proposals to implement specific mission-inspired projects in teaching and/or research. The three intended outcomes impacting mission were: to deepen faculty commitment to the Jesuit identity of KSOM; to increase the coverage of mission-related content (e.g., Responsibility, Sustainability and Justice) in business courses; and to increase faculty scholarly output on research topics that challenge the business, academic and professional communities to consider society and the greater good.  

Brennan Hall Classroom (Photo by The University of Scranton)

Brennan Hall Classroom (Photo by The University of Scranton)

The Business Education for Justice Seminar launched in the fall of 2015 with four junior and senior faculty who represented three of KSOM's four departments. Participants were Satya Chattopadhyay, Ph.D., (management, marketing and entrepreneurship) and Jordan Petsas, Ph.D., (economics / finance), both associate professors who serve as department chairpersons; and Ozgur Isil, Ph.D. and Yibai Li, Ph.D. (operations and information management), both assistant professors who are newer faculty members at Scranton.

The educational component of the Business Education for Justice Seminar was patterned after that of the ICP. The group met regularly during the academic year to discuss readings grouped by six main topics: (1) Introduction to St. Ignatius Loyola, (2) Jesuit Education: Roots and Riches of Ignatian Humanism, (3) Faith, Secularity and Ignatian Education, (4) A Faith that Does Justice, (5) Catholicity and Jesuit Education: Challenges and Appreciation, and (6) Ignatian Discernment to Advance Mission. The reflective component of the seminar was facilitated by a mini-retreat held near the end of the spring semester in 2016.

Throughout the seminar, several salient themes emerged. It became apparent to the group that social justice addressed only through service activities keeps these issues “extracurricular.” Faculty responsibilities are at the “heart” of a university and can help set the “moral climate” of an institution. Therefore, it is imperative that business school faculty be intentional in what they choose to teach and research. Considering the likelihood that KSOM students will go on to assume influential positions in business and society, KSOM faculty must include content that helps to shed light on the “weighty issues” and foster in students the skill of discernment, the practice of attention, reverence and devotion, and a commitment to the greater good that will guide their future decision-making. KSOM faculty should seek opportunities to address the “big questions” in their scholarship with the goal of expanding the role of business to consider the “authentic good of human society.”    

Kania School of Management Lobby (Photo by the University of Scranton)

Kania School of Management Lobby (Photo by the University of Scranton)

Outcomes: Business Education for Justice
Several mission-inspired projects consistent with these themes are currently underway at the University of Scranton. One is a research project examining the business relevance of reducing the environmental impact of value chains through integration with customers and suppliers (Isil). Another is investigating how different levels of participation in international service programs impacts the justice sensitivity of students (Chattopadhyay). A collaborative effort on the part of operations and information management faculty (Isil, Li and Sebastianelli) is infusing social justice into the undergraduate business core curriculum.

Faculty began to incorporate social justice issues using strategies appropriate for their subject matter in spring 2017. In business statistics, the hidden curriculum approach fosters an appreciation for the “social context” within which statistical methods can be used to analyze data related to issues such as discrimination, income inequality and unfair labor practices (Sebastianelli). In operations management, students are exposed to the environmental and social consequences of economic activity (e.g. climate change, deforestation, loss of biodiversity), as well as how leading firms gain competitive advantage by adopting practices (e.g. reverse logistics, eco-industrial parks, biomimicry) that can mitigate these consequences (Isil). In business information management, students analyze case studies that illustrate the potential ethical dilemmas arising in the IT workplace and e-commerce setting (e.g. showrooming, information privacy, data security).

The inaugural Business Education for Justice Seminar in KSOM is an important first step toward integrating social justice into the core faculty responsibilities of teaching and research. However, developing responsible faculty companions in mission is an ongoing process. Ideally, it involves a way of proceeding, a way of responding, and a way of making choices that is sustainable and consistent with mission. Only then can there be a true faculty partnership with the Ignatian tradition.