Business Ethics -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Martin Marty has a conversation about the place of business schools in Catholic institutions of higher education -- in the context of a gift by the Charles Koch (of the Koch Brothers) Foundation to Catholic University of America.  This has raised the ire of some Catholic ethicists, which has led to responses -- all raising interesting questions about ethics, business, and capitalism -- and our shared interest in the benefits of a capitalist economy.  Take a read and offer your response, perhaps with the warnings of Pope Francis in mind, from your capitalistic made computer, tablet or phone -- perhaps while drinking your Starbucks!


Business Ethics
Monday | Apr 7 2014
Catholic University of America                                          Credit: Michael Sauers / Creative Commons
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.”

Dunn 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.

Image Credit: Michael Sauers / Creative Commons

To read previous issues of Sightings, visit
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at

Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She is co-organizing a conference, April 9-11, 2014: "God: Theological Accounts and Ethical Possibilities," at the University of Chicago Divinity School (mostly funded by the Marty Center and free to the public). For more information, visit:
Forward to Friend
Sightings Home Page | Submission Guidelines | Reprint Policy
Divinity School
Email us
ALSO from The Martin Marty Center:


Popular Posts