I recently came across a document published by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in July of 2009 called “Catholic Higher Education and Catholic Social Teaching.” The document offers a vision statement for Catholic Social Teaching (CST) across the curriculum. What struck me was the paragraph on “The Economy” which echoed my concerns and hopes for economics at Notre Dame exactly, copied below with my emphasis added.
Times of economic crisis present an opportunity to rethink the economic models that have dominated the most recent moment of globalization. Yet, in economics and business school curricula, CST is too often relegated to courses on professional ethics. The new economic realities of our time call for a deeper engagement between economics and CST. Catholic universities are envisioned as places where the questions and ideals of CST continue to query the assumptions of orthodox economic thought and where CST evolves in dialogue with the most rigorous contemporary economic research. Concepts such as the dignity of labor, the common good, the preferential option for the poor, and human solidarity are essential to forge a more just, merciful, and sustainable global economy. Students formed in a CST vision and methodology learn that economic responsibility is not reduced to competitiveness and the maximization of profit.
This is exactly my personal concern. The current plan, to dissolve the Economics and Policy Studies Department and spread the professors around the campus or to other universities, will almost certainly sacrifice this vision of Catholic Social Teaching integrated across the economics curriculum. Absolutely, the ECOE professors use econometric tools to teach and research social justice related issues such as poverty and religion. But the classroom and research is lacking in two ways: (1) they lack mention of the assumptions of orthodox economic theory, much less a query rooted in the questions and ideals of CST and (2) they lack discussion of concepts such as dignity of labor, the common good, the option for the poor, and human solidarity. I become very concerned when these concepts cannot enter the economics classrooms even at Notre Dame.
Although a difficult task, I remain hopeful that a better solution can be forged for economics at Notre Dame. As the document concludes, “By matching determination to conviction, justice can become ever more a reality in our time.” And by the way, Fr. Jenkins sits on the board of the ACCU.