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Winter 2004 | Volume 26, Number 5 | Features
Another Way of Doing Business

SPU Invites Students to View Business as Service

BUSINESS ETHICS, AS IT IS generally taught, is most frequently conceived of in terms of limits — that is, in terms of what one must not do. For example, in advertising, one must not engage in deceptive practices. In employment, one must not inappropriately invade an employee’s privacy. And so on …

But ethics, properly understood, is a study of “what ought to be done.” At Seattle Pacific University’s School of Business and Economics (SBE), we believe that ethics and values must undergird our entire curriculum and that we must talk not only about what should not be done, but also about what should be done. We encourage our students to wrestle with traditional ethical limitations. But we also ask them to develop a theologically grounded understanding of the fundamental purpose of business. How can the practice of business have intrinsic value in the eyes of God? In what sense can day-to-day business activities further God’s kingdom in this world? Why would God call anyone to business as a holy vocation?

We are inviting our students to answer these questions by thinking about “another way of doing business.” Building upon Seattle Pacific’s commitment to “engage the culture and change the world,” we are suggesting that the fundamental purpose of business be reconceived of as service. We are teaching that business will further God’s kingdom when it pursues as its ends goods and services that meet the legitimate needs of others (i.e., customers) and provides vocationally rich opportunities for expression of creativity through work (i.e., employees). Profit-making remains important under this model, but not as the ultimate purpose of business. Rather, profit becomes a means to the ends of serving others. Just as fund raising is to a nonprofit corporation, earning a profit is to a for-profit company. Both are vital to the health of the organization. Neither are its reason for being.

At SBE, we are promoting this alternate understanding of business in a variety of ways. Within the curriculum, members of our faculty are expected to include questions of faith, ethics and values in every course, and students are asked to “grade” the faculty members on their efforts to do so. In addition to this cross-curriculum approach, all of our undergraduate majors are required to take “Business Ethics” as a capstone course. At the graduate level, our students must take two ethics and values classes — as far as we know, more than any other M.B.A. program requires. We have also instituted a series of one-unit courses specifically designed to consider questions of business and spirituality (e.g., “a Christian understanding of wealth accumulation” or “appropriate Sabbath organizational practices”).

We are working to deepen SBE faculty members’ understanding of the intersection of theology and business. We have sponsored summer seminars for our faculty and funded their participation in academic conferences exploring these topics. We have invited experts from around the world (and from SPU’s School of Theology) to work with us in a series of workshops and have retained the assistance of a “consulting theologian.”

At the extra-curricular level, we are regularly providing our students with access to business leaders who approach their businesses as service. We offer a quarterly “Faith in the Marketplace” speaker series. Mentors meet one-on-one with our students. We also provide all of our seniors with a free subscription to Ethix magazine, a periodical that emphasizes an ethical approach to business and technology.

In order to allow us to interact with the broader business and academic community on these issues, we have launched our Center for Integrity in Business. This Center is designed to facilitate discussion between a variety of audiences, including students, alumni, academics and the business community at large.

The Center maintains a detailed Web site that collects ethics resource materials and publishes a quarterly newsletter. This summer, it hopes to sponsor a gathering of management professors from across the country to encourage scholarship on issues of business-faith integration.

The Center has also sponsored a seminar for business leaders considering the development of a theology of business and is making plans for further seminar offerings. Currently, the Center is designing a series of roundtable discussions to bring together theologians, business practitioners, faculty and students to discuss questions of business ethics and values.

We are quite serious about this. We intend to graduate students of competence and character, students who will engage in “good business.” For us, this means not only providing the training that will enable our graduates to be good at traditional business disciplines, but also developing their character and providing them with a perspective that will enable them to be forces for good in their places of work.

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