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Building Culture and Institutionalizing Mission-Driven Business Education

April 22, 2021 13 min read
By Dr. Michael J. Naughton Director, Center for Catholic Studies, University of Saint Thomas
Two business students studying notes

The following text is drawn from "Revitalizing and Institutionalizing Mission: Business Education at Catholic Universities," prepared by Michael J. Naughton, PhD, for Renewal of Catholic Higher Education: Essays in Catholic Studies in Honor of Don J. Briel, published by the University of Mary in 2017. Slight alterations have been made to the text. This is the final installment of a four-part series, which begins with "Institutionalizing a Catholic Culture in Professional Schools."


In 1978, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) Committee on Purpose and Identity asked James Burtchaell, then provost at the University of Notre Dame, to prepare a document on the specific mission and identity of Catholic higher education. In the resulting document he insisted that:

Every quality that a college or university desires as an institutional characteristic must be embodied in its faculty; they are what most make it what it is. To seek academic excellence would be in vain, for instance, unless at every evaluation of faculty and in every personnel decision this excellence were a quality openly sought after. If an institution professes to be Catholic, not just nominally but in ways that are intellectually inquisitive and morally committed, then it is similarly imperative that faculty and administrators unabashedly pursue and articulate those interests and those commitments in the recruitment and the advancement of colleagues. Neither intellectual excellence nor religious commitment nor any other positive value will exist within an institution unless each of those qualities is candidly recruited and evaluated and preferred in the appointments of its faculty.1
Burtchaell makes clear that if we are serious about the Catholic mission and identity of business education, we need to evaluate the way its commitments are institutionalized and operationalized. While there are many conditions to make this happen, Burtchaell’s point is that if universities do not institutionalize the way faculty are 1) recruited and hired, 2) formed and developed, and 3) promoted and evaluated, Catholic mission and identity will be marginalized and often relegated to contained spheres within the university, such as theology requirements, campus ministry, mission trips, and service projects. There are other issues to consider, such as the curriculum, research, administrative leadership, non-curricular activities of students, board of trustees, alumni, accrediting organizations, donors, recruitment of students and so forth, but these items become peripheral where there is not a faculty that is “intellectually inquisitive and morally committed” to its Catholic mission.

1. Faculty Recruitment and Hiring2

Without a critical mass or at least a creative minority of faculty in both the colleges of arts and sciences and business to drive a mission-centered business education, “Catholic” will be simply in name only. It is the faculty who ultimately express and define a university’s deepest convictions, which is why mission-driven recruitment and hiring is one of the most important policies to institutionalize within an organization. If the recruitment and hiring process at a Catholic university only engages candidates’ academic credentials, and nothing is expected in terms of their contribution to the university’s religious identity, the secularization of the university is inevitable.

One of the crucial questions for recruitment and mission-based hiring is at what level faculty participate in the mission of a Catholic business education. There are several such levels to consider: methodological rigor, research creativity, pedagogical excellence, ethical reflection, engagement with the religious mission of the institution, identification with the Catholic mission of the university, etc. Below is one way to think through a recruitment/hiring strategy for a Catholic university that considers various levels in which people participate in the mission of the institution. The following levels will entail a variety of initiatives, each of which is “incomplete in isolation from the others” and which, if not taken as a whole, can cause serious distortions and ill will.3

Hiring teachers and scholars of excellence

A hiring strategy or mission plan should seek to attract professors to the university who have either a distinguished record of teaching and scholarship or the promise for developing such a record. Faculty should have a demonstrated respect for and understanding of the distinctive claims of the university’s Catholic identity, even if they have no commitment to any faith tradition. As John Paul II indicated, such scholars can make a real and essential contribution to the University’s mission in the light of their own disciplinary competence and commitment. Many Catholic universities tend to hire on this level and this level alone, however. An increasing number of universities will ask interviewees to respond to the mission-driven character of the university, and if the answer is not hostile to its Catholic character, most responses are accepted.

Hiring and recruiting scholars from other religious and philosophical traditions

Catholic universities should seek scholars and teachers from other Christian denominations and faith traditions who have a respect for and knowledge of the fundamental distinctiveness of the Catholic mission of the university, and who can make a contribution to that mission in the light of their own faith and philosophical tradition. It is commonly heard that Lutherans, Jews, Mormons, Hindus and others are often more engaged in ethical and spiritual questions, and even in Catholic social thought, in departments of accounting, economics, management and finance than many Catholics within those departments. Faculty who take their religious tradition seriously make an indispensable contribution to Catholic business education precisely in terms of their engagement as non-Catholics. They bring to the university both a fresh set of eyes to its mission and their own distinct insights with which to engage the Catholic tradition.4

For the most part, Catholic universities do not recruit and hire for this type of plurality of religious and philosophical traditions, but because they are the largest single denomination of universities, Catholic universities attract people of a wide variety of faith traditions who are interested in ethical and spiritual questions. Such faculty find themselves freer at Catholic universities to raise spiritual, moral and social questions in their research and teaching precisely because of the universities’ mission. Yet, because this kind of hiring and recruiting is not intentional, attracting people of faith can be and is easily lost when it is not institutionalized in the university’s hiring strategy.

Hiring seriously committed and intellectually accomplished Catholics who seek a dialogue between faith and reason5

Catholic faith is not merely a historical phenomenon, but a reality to live as well as to die for. It is not merely an emotive reality, but it has an intellectual dimension that gives a vision of the world. The ecclesial identity, sacramental participation, and familiarity with the Catholic intellectual and social tradition of Catholic faculty are indispensable expressions of the commitments of a Catholic university.6 When Catholic faculty take their faith seriously in an academic context, they foster conversations on faith and reason, business as a vocation, the social nature of property and capital, the role of the theological and cardinal virtues in leadership, the just distribution of wealth, etc. A Catholic university should provide the freedom and space for Catholic intellectuals to explore the unique contributions of their own tradition. This exploration does two things simultaneously. First, as Don Briel explains: “Catholic faculty members can fully commit to the Catholic university’s distinctive claim not only to pursue a free and open search for truth, but also to express with integrity and conviction, a commitment to the Catholic university’s claim to possess and disclose the fount of truth.”7 Precisely because they are Catholic, they freely commit to the fullness of a Catholic vision of university life. Second, Catholic priests, religious and laypeople who are seriously committed intellectuals and who draw upon their faith within their academic pursuits provide an indispensable and unique contribution to further their own discipline by taking a tradition seriously that otherwise would not be engaged.

Catholic faith is not merely a historical phenomenon, but a reality to live as well as to die for. It is not merely an emotive reality, but it has an intellectual dimension that gives a vision of the world.

To some, the idea that Catholic universities should have a critical mass of Catholic faculty appears exclusive, sectarian, and full of religious discrimination. An analogy might help to see the reasonableness and necessity of such a goal for the identity of a Catholic university. In order for the NAACP to carry out its mission, most people would not have a problem with a critical mass of African Americans involved with such an organization. Without such a critical mass, there is a good chance that the NAACP would lose the distinctiveness of its mission. In a similar way, a Catholic university and its programs cannot be Catholic without Catholics who take their faith seriously in relation to their respective academic disciplines.8

Such a multifaceted strategy reflected in these three levels allows the university the freedom to judge, based on the variables of who is available, which person would be best, what is needed at the university, and so forth. If university leadership does not have a clear picture of the kind of faculty needed to translate the mission into the wide variety of disciplines, it will have a difficult time achieving its mission as a Catholic university.

Besides adopting a more comprehensive recruitment/hiring policy, as implied in this section, Catholic business schools should have at least one chair in Catholic social thought and business. Institutionalizing such a chair would guarantee a presence of its deepest held principles, and if all Catholic business programs went in this direction, research in the area of Catholic social thought and business would increase. Among their specific contributions, such chairs could facilitate interdisciplinary work that enhances the Catholic mission of the business school.

2. Faculty Development and Formation9

The mission of business education at a Catholic university is a complex project. Once hired, faculty needs to have regular opportunities to examine and reflect upon the specific implications of the university’s mission and their own responsibility to it. Such opportunities must be serious and purposeful, as well as free and exploratory. The university must seek its commitment to its common tradition, one that should be regularly translated and affirmed as well as explored and debated.

The university needs to create a variety of faculty development programs that help to form and sustain faculty as they develop their own roles within the university’s Catholic mission. Such initiatives, many of which could be organized by Catholic Studies, might include the following:

  • New faculty seminars on the Catholic intellectual tradition and the mission of the Catholic university.
  • Mission-driven seminars on business education and the Catholic university.10
  • Curricular seminars that help faculty to integrate Catholic social tradition across the liberal arts and business curriculum.
  • Summer School seminars and courses on Catholic social thought and business-related issues.
  • Leadership faculty forums that serve to develop future leaders of the university.10
  • Annual lectures and workshops on a wide variety of issues that highlight the university’s distinctive mission and identity.

3. Faculty Evaluation, Tenure, and Promotion

Ken Goodpaster explains that there are two languages of ethics in institutions: espoused values driven by mission statements, and values in action driven by rewards, incentives and promotions.11 When the two come into conflict, the second one inevitably prevails. Within Catholic universities, faculty evaluation, tenure and promotion are increasingly based on scholarship, especially scholarship in highly specialized discipline-based journals. By itself, this type of specialized and empirical scholarship within a university’s research portfolio will repress a unity of knowledge and a dialogue of faith and reason.

Unless administrators recognize these distorted incentives, they will not be able to prevent the inevitable result of mission drift. Since research is an increasingly important part of the reward structure within Catholic universities, faculty and administrators will need to discern the mission-driven character of their research portfolio. A larger portion of Catholic business schools’ research should have a focus on ethics, poverty, interdisciplinarity, spirituality, and Catholic social thought. This may mean certain tier-one journals may not find moral and spiritual research of interest. Catholic universities that want mission-driven research cannot then turn around and punish faculty whose research is not acceptable to higher ranking journals that only want empirical studies. This does not mean restricting the research program of business faculty to only ethical, social and spiritual issues in the Catholic tradition, but it does mean that such research has an absolutely essential presence at a Catholic university.12


1 James T. Burtchaell, CSC, “Catholic Institutions of Higher Learning: Dutiful yet Free in Church and State,” Current Issues in Catholic Higher Education: Commitments and Communities 9, no. 1 (1988): Emphasis added.

2 See James L. Heft, S.M. and Fred P. Pestello, “Hiring Practices in Catholic Colleges and Universities,” Current Issues (1999): 89-97.

3 The following material is adapted from Don Briel, “Mission and Identity: The Role of Faculty,” Journal of Catholic Higher Education 31 (2012): 169.

4 In 2004, Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) wrote that “The tree of the Kingdom of God reaches beyond the branches of the visible Church, but that is precisely why it must be a hospitable place in whose branches many guests find solace.” This image of a tree fed by the Catholic intellectual tradition that provides a home and a nesting place for guests of many traditions who share in the life of the tree is a helpful way to think of the identity and the diversity of a Catholic university. Ratzinger contended that schools face a new challenge, that of “the coming together of religions and cultures in the joint search for truth.” This means, he said, on the one hand, “not excluding anyone in the name of their cultural or religious background,” and on the other “not stopping at the mere recognition” of this cultural or religious difference. Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, trans. Michael F. Moore (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 122.

5 In Ex Corde Ecclesiae, John Paul II states that “the future of Catholic Universities depends to a great extent on the competent and dedicated service of lay Catholics. The Church sees their developing presence in these institutions both as a sign of hope and as a confirmation of the irreplaceable lay vocation in the Church and in the world,” confident that lay people will, in the exercise of their own distinctive role, “illumine and organize these (temporal) affairs in such a way that they always start out, develop, and continue according to Christ's mind, to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer” (sec. 25).

6 Regarding faculty sacramental participation, Steve Cortright explains that “What is radically Catholic is not a code of morals nor even a credal statement, but an action: the Passover of the Lord. What is proposed for faith is not proposition, but event.” Cortright speaks of the importance of “sacramental identification” as the defining center of a Catholic university. When this center is marginalized, the university’s ecclesial commitment is not far behind. “Sacramental Identification,” paper presented at the 7th International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, June 11-13, 2008.

7 Don Briel, “Mission and Identity,” The Don Briel Blog, January 10, 2015. See Ex Corde Ecclesiae, §9, where John Paul II speaks of “the Christian mind” and “advancing higher culture.”

8 In Ex Corde Ecclesiae, John Paul II states the following: “In order not to endanger the Catholic identity of the University or Institute of Higher Studies, the number of non-Catholic teachers should not be allowed to constitute a majority within the Institution, which is and must remain Catholic” (II:4.4).. Corroborating the mandates of Ex Corde, D. Paul Sullins found that Catholic faculty at Catholic universities showed “higher support for Catholic identity in latent structures of aspiration for improved Catholic distinctiveness, a desire for more theology or philosophy courses, and longer institutional tenure.” “The Difference Catholic Makes: Catholic Faculty and Catholic Identity,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 43 (2004): 83–101.

9 Recruiting and faculty development are connected. Bill Brinkman, former Vice President of Leadership Formation from Ascension Health, once told me that hiring is 50 percent of development and formation. If you hire the right people, 50 percent of your faculty development is accomplished. If you hire the wrong people, faculty development could be an exercise of deep frustration. Without significant formation and development among faculty concerning an engagement of the Catholic intellectual and social tradition, mission drift will occur.

10 See Andre Delbecq’s Santa Clara’s Ignatius Faculty Forum “A Leadership Perspective on Catholic Business Education” (paper presented at the 7th International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, June 11-13, 2008).

11 Ken Goodpaster, Conscience and Corporate Culture (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006), ch. 6.

12 Lee Tavis, “Professional Education in a Catholic University.” In The Challenge and Promise of a Catholic University, ed. Theodore M. Hesburgh (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994): 329-38.

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