Higher Education as Noble Vocation

The relation between academic and vocational education leads to a key ethical question: what is the value and the reputation of a profession in society? In ancient Greece, the philosopher was higher than the slave; in the middle age the priest was higher than the trader or teacher; in 2019, the CEO of an IT or Artificial Intelligence company is more reputable than the farmer. And from the perspective of Christian faith? Christian work ethics is revolutionary for education and the job market: what counts not is the reputation of a profession in society, but rather work executed for the glory of God (Soli Deo Gloria) and as service to people in need/to the society. And if work is only done for personal benefit, it often leads to exploitation of others. Therefore, in the light of Christian faith, a righteous farmer has higher reputation and dignity in front of God than a corrupt billionaire or a famous researcher who develops the newest autonomous weapons/drones to kill innocent civilians. An honest cleaner in this university has higher status in front of God than a selfish professor or pastor or priest!

“Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection” is an excellent document of the Vatican, published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace under its president Cardinal Turkson from Ghana. Not only does a pastor, a deacon, a nun or a bishop have a vocation, but every profession. “When businesses and market economies function properly and focus on serving the common good, they contribute greatly to the material and even the spiritual well-being of society.…The alternative path of faith-based “servant leadership” provides business leaders with a larger perspective and helps them to balance the demands of the business world with those of ethical social principles, illuminated for Christians by the Gospel.”

Courage to remain truthful can be (sometimes) costly. Some time ago I met two friends: The first has a high-ranking position as head of a public company in Africa. He resigned voluntarily as he was not given the chance to implement the value-based integrity as discussed above. He had given up his position and the privileges thereof, the money and the politico-economic power in order to keep up with his principles of integrity. He thereby enhanced his reputation as a truthful and trustworthy person, a moral quality of which the people in his country were yearning for. The second is a friend from Asia, who had accepted a promotion for a top academic position in an institution, provided he could replace the corrupted elements within it, and build thereupon a culture of integrity with more transparency. He declared that he would resign without the instrumental support of the auditing authorities. These two examples show that one needs not only the necessary bravery, but also a sufficiently sound safety net to avoid falling into the insecurity gap upon leaving a position out of ethical conviction! Many more examples of personalities known for their integrity could be mentioned. Africans like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Kofi Annan are only three.

This text is an abridged version of the following article:

Leadership with Ethics and Integrity. The noble vocation of higher education ethics
2021, Leadership with Integrity: Higher Education from Vocation to Funding, Globethics.net Leadership with Integrity No. 8, Geneva, 37-54.

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