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May 20, 2012

Ethics at heart of Saint Joseph's MBA program

Professor Wayne Cunningham, right, is director of the new master’s program in business administration at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer: “Our intention is to talk about (ethics) in every single course.” (Photo provided)

Professor Wayne Cunningham, right, is director of the new master’s program in business administration at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer: “Our intention is to talk about (ethics) in every single course.” (Photo provided)

By Kevin Cullen

RENSSELAER — The business world can be a jungle where cunning wheeler-dealers strive to out-wit, out-maneuver and out-perform their competitors ... no matter what.

But that “anything goes” philosophy has bankrupted shareholders, destroyed companies, thrown people out of work, and put executives in prison. It has diluted public respect and trust, too.

The new master’s program in business administration at Saint Joseph’s College recognizes the importance of profit, but adds a Christian dimension to every class. Business practices and decision-making are undergirded by faith, truth, justice, social responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Classes began in Rensselaer in August 2011. They will expand to Lafayette this fall.

“I had never taken a business class before, and I had no business aspirations, but I thought it would be a good way to build on the education I had received here,” said one of the inaugural MBA students, Ben Kalinowski, an English major who earned a bachelor’s degree from Saint Joseph’s College in 2010. “I knew what a Saint Joe’s education entailed, so this was a great opportunity to expand my knowledge into another area. It will give me a lot more options down the road.”

All undergraduates take a series of “Core” courses that immerse them in the history, philosophy and ethics of Western thought. The new MBA program builds on that.

“Ethics is always incorporated,” said Kalinowski, who now is on the college staff. “We started with business ethics, and we incorporate that into what we are doing now — marketing, human resource management, case studies. We’re not looking just at financial benefit, but how something will affect others. (We ask), ‘Is it a good thing to do?’”

The “bottom line” is important, but it’s also possible to “succeed financially in a way that is fair to shareholders, employees and managers,” he said. “That will be a distinguishing factor in me trying to sell myself.”

Most MBA programs offer business ethics courses. “It’s a matter of how much emphasis is on it. Our program is small and unique. Our intention is to talk about (ethics) in every single course,” said the program director, Professor Wayne Cunningham.

The first three graduates will get their degrees this summer. Applications are being accepted for MBA classes that will be offered in Lafayette for the first time this fall.

“We built the program to enhance the image of Saint Joe’s,” Cunningham said. “We have a nationally-known Core program that instills Christian humanism in our (undergraduate) students. When I came, I said, ‘We can’t do an MBA program without Christian humanism.’

“I believe you can’t have a legitimate MBA program at a Catholic institution without being responsive to the 6 billion people at the bottom of the economic pyramid,” Cunningham said. “It has to give due consideration to what it is to be a Christian, and that means you have to give back.”

Instead of writing a master’s thesis, students must complete a service-learning component by using knowledge gained in the classroom to design, plan, execute and evaluate a business plan for a not-for-profit organization.

Cunningham said that he hopes that MBA graduates continue to volunteer in their communities or seek out employment with not-for-profit organizations.

Eight full-time and part-time students are now enrolled. Shifting MBA courses to the St. Elizabeth School of Nursing campus in Lafayette is expected to boost enrollment for the 2012-13 class.

“Lafayette is a natural location for us,” Cunningham said.

Stephanie Vanderhere, a 2006 graduate of Saint Joseph’s College, will be a member of the first MBA graduating class. She earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting and hopes to someday work in the accounting department of a museum. She now works for an accounting firm in Lowell.

“I feel that an MBA is important in your career. When I was looking for jobs a few years back, you couldn’t move up without it,” she said. “Employers required it; it was sort of like a bachelor’s degree was not that important.”

Working in the business office of a museum, she said, would be ideal because “it would be interesting to see how exhibits come together, and to see the other end of it, rather than the tourist’s perspective. Every day would be a learning experience.

“The MBA program teaches you how to take the principles you learned as an undergraduate, and apply them,” she said.

A student who has earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration or accounting can usually earn an MBA degree at Saint Joseph’s College in 12 months by taking 12 eight-week courses. Those with other degrees can complete prerequisites online, earn credit by examination, or take additional classes while enrolled in the graduate program. A part-time student can earn his MBA in two years.

Cunningham expects the MBA program to grow in popularity over time, especially since many employers offer tuition assistance for employees enrolled in graduate courses.

Students must complete a regimen of business courses, including decision tools for managers, applied project management, managing through people, managerial accounting, marketing strategy, managerial economics, and managing innovation and change.

One required course, “Global Environments of Business,” includes a two-week study abroad experience to allow students to learn about business motives and business decision-making in other parts of the world.

The first MBA class spent nine days in Berlin, Germany; Krakow, Poland, and Budapest, Hungary. Cunningham said he’d like to offer a three-week visit to China next year.

But the greatest value, all agree, is the blending of age-old Christian ethics and modern business adminstration.

“In business, there are gray areas; nothing is ever black and white,” Vanderhere said. “Looking at things ethically teaches you that just because something is legal, it may not be OK ethically.”

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