Op-Ed: Holy Cross Needs a Strong Business, Ethics, and Society Minor

Davey Sullivan ‘22 

News Editor

The Business, Ethics, and Society Minor is an interdisciplinary, student-designed minor on this campus that I believe is misunderstood. What has historically made the minor controversial is funding from the Charles Koch Foundation. The program is often judged as being unethical before the academic merits, the impact on participating students, the greater campus community, and the ramifications for Holy Cross as an academic institution can be considered. The Koch Foundation has acted unethically in the past at other universities, but the Holy Cross administration has affirmed that there is no influence being exerted by the donation by the Koch Foundation at Holy Cross or in the Business, Ethics, and Society program specifically. Ultimately, the minor is beneficial for the community and is not worthy of being judged unethical without examining the controversy and the reality of what funds are currently being spent on. This controversy and my examination in this article are not about the political ideologies of the Kochs or any other people involved on campus, but about the ethics of external influence at Holy Cross. I encourage an open mind in observing the ways in which Holy Cross grapples with the concept of business on our campus, and an open mind as you consider the current reality of the minor. 

The Business, Ethics, and Society (BES) Minor is designed to connect the liberal arts to the institution of business beyond Holy Cross. The program is rooted in determining a question about business and then investigating, planning, and executing a project based on the question, with the question being determined as a proposal during the application process for the BES Minor. As to course requirements, four introductory courses must be taken prior to application to the program. First, students engage in the academic study of the language of business, taking courses in the Departments of Economics and Accounting. Next, the student studies capitalism in our society with the requirement of the Interdisciplinary Studies course Capitalism in Context. Finally, a course in the study of ethics is required. Once these courses have been completed, students may apply for the program. Students take two upper-level electives of their choice, with one required to be outside the social sciences and the other dealing with ethics and social justice, although this can be fulfilled by both. There is a Business Fundamentals Requirement, which can be fulfilled by the Fullbridge Professional Edge Program or a Holy Cross Business Fundamentals Lab. This requirement brings in actual business skills, like sales, finance, communications, marketing, and product development. An internship is required, adding authentic experiential learning. Finally, the capstone project draws the program together, encouraging the student to take what they have learned from their courses and apply their understanding to real-world business case studies.

The BES Minor has been one of the most valuable programs that I have been a part of at Holy Cross. From when I came to Holy Cross my freshman year in 2018, I became enamored with the concept of the minor. It was intriguing to see a program that could connect my liberal arts education and the Jesuit ethical values with my future as a student desiring to apply the ethics and values I learned and developed at Holy Cross in a business career. As a Political Science major, I developed my BES question to be a bridge between what I was learning in the classroom and my future career. I have taken this experience to my workplace of many years, an ed-tech startup in Chicago. The company that I work for is a woman-led, socially conscious for-profit company with a mission to provide live and online teachers in classrooms that could not otherwise find a teacher in a given subject area. It provides valuable work opportunities for teachers who may not be able to physically be in the classroom for various reasons, but wish to teach live. The values of Holy Cross have taught me to seek out such opportunities, and to work for and with those who are practicing ethical, socially positive business. I owe my increased understanding of business ethics to the Business, Ethics, and Society minor.

Other students share this sentiment. Michaela Faris ‘22, a fellow member of the first cohort of the minor, commented to The Spire recently on her view of the program. Faris, a psychology major, is exploring balancing corporate profit and employee wellbeing for her BES Project. She stated, “I aspire to have a successful career in the business world and firmly believe that the Business, Ethics, and Society Minor will help me achieve that goal. The BES minor has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of how the business world works. The BES Minor has provided a valuable experience to study business under a critical lens that will serve me well in my future endeavors. The BES has truly broadened my view of the business world and how I can be an ethical participant in it.”  

There is currently deliberation on the future of the BES Minor. The Committee on Indisclipinary Studies (CIS), now called the Committee on Academic Programs (CAP), provisionally accepted the minor for one class year, the class of 2022, when the minor was created. This is strictly a faculty governance issue, meaning that the minor is currently being reviewed to become a formal academic interdisciplinary program. All formal interdisciplinary programs must undergo this process. Originally, The BES Template was presented to the CIS Committee and given only provisional approval, not full approval.  Miles Cahill, Professor of Economics, Speaker of the Faculty, commented to the Spire, “Students at the college at the time (which meant until the class of 2022, who were first-year students at the time) were given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to apply to the minor while the proposal was revised and submitted to CAP for the proper review. Students not yet at the college were not eligible to apply (Class of 2023 and later).” Professor Cahill also noted that he was under the understanding that the Committee on Academic Programs was deliberating on a permanent template for the student-designed minor. The BES Minor, then, could have the potential to become a formal academic minor, not a student-designed minor to which students would need to apply. 

It is crucial to examine the history of the debate over the Charles Koch Foundation within the Holy Cross community to understand the controversy around the minor. There are a myriad of viewpoints to be examined that have caused misunderstanding around the academic program. 

In November 2018, the College of the Holy Cross accepted a grant for the creation of the Ciocca Center of Business, Ethics, Society. The College’s announcement states that Holy Cross alumnus, Arthur Ciocca ‘59, and Carlyse Ciocca, had donated $2.3 million, with $1.5 million being matched by the Charles Koch Foundation to create the Ciocca Center.  The purpose of the Center was to “support expanded workshop and internship opportunities, financial aid for students participating in these opportunities, and funding for additional faculty and courses to support the College’s established co-curricular certificates and a new interdisciplinary minor.” Scrutiny of the Ciocca gift being accompanied by Koch Foundation money is not new to the Holy Cross community, with the debate beginning in February 2019 with the publication of an article in The Spire titled “If You’re Reading This, You’ve Been Koch-ed”. It was written by Marie Therese Kane, a Holy Cross alumna from the Class of 2018. The article questions why Holy Cross, a Jesuit liberal arts college rooted in Catholic Social Teaching, would accept the funds from the Charles Koch Foundation. She stated that “The Koch’s business and political activities, and the environmentally devastating form of capitalism that motivates them, blatantly contradicts Holy Cross’s professed Catholic values, as well as the Center’s mission”. 

Faculty concern for the reception of Charles Koch Foundation funds was evident in the early months of 2019, so much so that Provost Margaret Freije addressed the faculty on the matter at an assembly of the Holy Cross faculty on April 2, 2019. Former Editor-in-Chief of the Spire, Jackie Cannon ‘20, covered the meeting in an article titled “Freije Defends Koch Donation before Faculty”. She reported that faculty concern for the minor continued despite Dean Freije’s defense of the reception of the funds, with the faculty voting overwhelmingly to reject the Charles Koch Foundation Funds. Cannon highlighted the concern of Professor Andrew Hwang, stating he had “shared a statement that questioned the ability to reconcile the Jesuit mission of Holy Cross and the ‘actions and agenda of the Koch Foundation.’” Cannon also reported that Hwang shared his concern over academic freedom. The campus community has been distrustful of the minor based on influence from those who are unethical.

From previous case studies,  you can find various resources that detail the dangers of previous Koch Foundation involvement at colleges and universities. There are clear risks to Koch Foundation Involvement at Holy Cross, as there are past instances of unethical activity by the Koch Brothers Foundation at other universities. The Center for Public Integrity reported on Koch Brother funding at Florida State University’s Economics Department, demonstrating an example of the influence the Kochs were able to attain with a donation. The Center for Public Integrity listed three disturbing elements: “First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller. Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired. And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman must stay on another three years as department chairman — even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after one three-year term.” This external influence on academics is ethically wrong, and it poses a challenge to Holy Cross. It is essential, therefore, to assure that Holy Cross currently has proper controls and policy in place to assure the ethical use of this funding, especially as the BES Minor moves from CIS student designed to a formal academic program. 

Provost Freije, as previously discussed, defended the minor before the faculty at the April 2, 2019 faculty assembly, of which the meeting minutes were not able to be presently obtained by the Spire. However, the previously mentioned reporting for The Spire by Jackie Cannon reveals that Freije stressed that a strong contract was put in place in the agreement to prevent undue influence. Additionally, “Arthur Ciocca, for whom the Center is named, sought out the connection to supplement his gift to the Center. Additional funds were needed to implement the proposal for the new Center, which was intended to appeal to a wider portion of the student body than the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies that the Center was replacing.” Provost Freije also stated that the funds would be a minority of funds given to the college, and the funds will go toward increasing student participation, through the form of financial aid for the Fullbridge Program and the provision of internships to students. 

In addition to addressing the faculty, Provost Freije, Professor Loren Cass, Dean of Experiential Learning and Student Success, and Professor David Chu, Director of the Ciocca Center, all released a statement to respond to the editorial by Marie Therese Kane. They assured that “Every decision regarding the Ciocca Center will be made by faculty and administrators at the College. The College has full control over all hiring, curriculum, and programming, in accordance with our existing policies and procedures as well as our high standards of academic freedom and excellence. This independence is enshrined in the gift agreement. None of our funders has asked for any influence in the operations of the Center. All private foundations reserve the right to suspend grant funding if they feel the recipient makes changes that are considered material to the purpose or success of the grant.” Their assurance demonstrates the strong ethical boundary that has been set by the Holy Cross faculty.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Dean Loren Cass to speak about the Business, Ethics, and Society Minor and the Koch Foundation controversy. Professor Cass stated that the reception of Koch Foundation funds was accepted strictly with the purpose of enhancing the student experience at Holy Cross. Dean Cass did admit, however, that mistakes were made in the inception of the Business, Ethics, and Society Minor, stating that bestowing the same name upon the minor and the Ciocca Center was generally bad for the public image. In the past, the Fullbridge Professional Edge workshop, in which funds from the Koch Foundation were involved, was required for the Minor. Now, however, there is a Business Fundamentals Lab that can be taken as an alternative to Fullbridge to fulfill the requirement, with this workshop being completely housed within the College’s Interdisciplinary Studies course offerings. Dean Cass stated that his mandate is to ensure the disbursement of funds, and said that the Koch funds had never influenced any curriculum, hiring, or any other agenda that the Kochs may have had. On the separation of the Ciocca Center and the BES Minor, Professor Cass said that currently Arthur Ciocca’s donations are used in funding the Center, and the Koch Funds are separated. He stated the Koch Foundation funds are only used to support student access and opportunity; currently these funds are being disbursed into the Crusader Internship Fund, through the Center for Career Development. This helps students receive stipends for internships so as to increase student opportunity when they apply. Funds are used to give students the opportunity to attend the Fullbridge Professional Edge workshop when they apply for aid. With the price of the program around $1,700, many students could miss out without Financial Aid support. As a note, the Fullbridge Program is a one-week program that is conducted by a privately held company, Fullbridge Inc., that makes a profit off the program being offered to Holy Cross and other institutions. As previously stated, this program was previously required for the completion of the minor, but is no longer required. I, and many others in my BES cohort, took the Fullbridge Program to satisfy the Business Fundamentals requirement for the minor. Without the Koch Foundation and other donor funds, Dean Cass noted that there would be less opportunity for students to engage with crucial business ethics workshops and employment opportunities, crucial because of the fact that he stated that around 80% of graduates from Holy Cross work in business functions post-graduation. Definitively, Dean Cass stated that a student could engage in the Business, Ethics, Society Minor as an academic program without ever interacting with any Koch Foundation Funds, making the minor truly an independent academic program, completely under the control of independent Holy Cross faculty.

The Business, Ethics, and Society Minor, in my view, is quintessential in preparing students for careers in the business world. Jesuit values must be able to inform students in the workplace. The controversy over the funding has revealed that mistakes were made in the conception of this program, but these flaws should not discount the merits of this minor because of the greater impact that it provides. Unethical practice or influence has not previously and cannot currently be found in my research regarding the history of the BES program, and this should be reason enough to keep this program. The Kochs’ involvement on college campuses has been deeply unethical in the past, and my conclusion on this matter is separated from any political views that I, the Kochs, or others at Holy Cross may have. Any involvement by external actors to influence our campus would be unethical, and this has not been found. Now, however, we must look to the current state of the program and the current reality: we have been assured that all funds are going toward student support. Funds help students gain access and opportunity to pursue what they are passionate about with their Holy Cross education. The greater truth behind this fact is that the Business, Ethics, and Society program increases the influence of Jesuit teaching in practicing business in a way in accordance with said values. Students can become more competitive on the job market and so they choose given the opportunity to engage with BES. There will be fewer people in the world using unfettered capitalist assets to influence academics if Holy Cross students have the skills to be ethical and socially conscious business leaders. I would not change my liberal arts education from Holy Cross in any way, and this program is the bridge to my own career. I owe it to all future Holy Cross students interested in studying business ethics and eventually developing a career to advocate for the opportunity I was given. Support this program. It is a beneficial asset to our community and our world. Holy Cross needs a strong Business, Ethics, and Society Minor.

Photo Courtesy of Holy Cross Newsroom

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