The recent scandals in corporate America and Europe have intensified the growing importance of business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR). This past summer, the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought hosted a two-week seminar on corporate social responsibility in Minnesota for Italian students involved in a master’s program on CSR at the Angelicum University in Rome. The instructors for the seminar were Michael Naughton, director of the Ryan Institute, and Sister Helen Alford, O.P., dean of the faculty of social sciences at the Angelicum.
The program examined the current state of business ethics and CSR in our globalized economy. In this two-week intensive program students and faculty explored the meaning of business ethics and CSR from within a variety of moral and spiritual traditions (liberal, Confucian, Christian, etc.) and how these traditions are connected to practical business problems. An important part of the program was the visits to companies integrating business ethics and CSR into their practices and policies.
The University of St. Thomas community was especially helpful in providing a substantive and broad picture of CSR in Minnesota. The Center for Ethical Business Cultures was of inestimable value in organizing visits for students to receive an up-close view of various companies in Minnesota such as 3M, General Mills, Medtronic, Reell, Foldcraft, Valspar, Toro, etc. The Koch Chair in Business Ethics, Ken Goodpaster, and his colleague, Dean Maines, engaged the students in a clear but sophisticated lecture and conversation on how one can begin to measure the social responsibilities of corporations. David Koch (UST trustee) hosted a wonderful lunch at the Minneapolis Club and spoke to the group on the deep commitments business leaders in Minnesota have toward CSR. Tom Holloran (UST management professor and former chairman of Medtronic) and John Stout (from Fredrickson & Byron and UST adjunct law professor) explored with the group the role of corporate governance in promoting socially responsible organizations. Both Naughton and Alford were grateful for the generosity and wisdom of their colleagues and friends at St. Thomas in making the program a great success.
This was the first year that the University of St. Thomas and the Angelicum have run this joint program for graduate students from Italy. The students saw it as a high point to their graduate program. They were fascinated by all the companies they saw and the various perspectives on CSR that they were able to explore. In particular the program allowed them to see more clearly the differences between the way things work in their home country and in another such as the United States. This multicultural experience is always helpful in overcoming overly simplistic generalizations of particular cultures.
Because of the success of the program, Naughton and Alford will teach the program again next year.