There is tension in every organisation as finance questions loom and influence major decisions. Catholic universities are not exempt here. We want to do things we cannot afford; we have different views on how the pie should be divided up and shared. The fact that the President or CEO sets strategy and approves major decisions does not stop confrontation and anxiety over financial questions throughout all ranks. What according to the vision of Ex Corde Ecclesiae can the finance team do about that?
First, if the team is deeply honest and known to be so, this is the greatest help they can offer. The CFO should be as much a specialist in truth as is the Professor of Theology; and this means his or her enemies are untruths, ignorance, superstitious fears, mystification. Of course, finance professionals in various industries have failed seriously in these ways in recent times. Catholic universities actively encourage their finance team in truth and truthfulness, honestly and truth-telling. In this area finance plays a leadership role.
Secondly, a commitment to ongoing communication at a level and in a language as close as possible to the language of the person spoken to is enormously helpful in dispelling financial confusion. Numbers experts need to be language experts.
Thirdly, the institutional commitment to the Gospel means a commitment within the university’s mission and strategy to the most needy. This has implications for whom we sponsor, give scholarships to, focus on as we develop courses and areas of strength – but also in general to how the pie is divided.
Fourthly, a deep respect for what the university actually does and what money therefore serves – research and education – will remind staff daily of where they work and why they work, and indeed help with understanding how they should work.
Fifthly, courage, finance teams require courage to speak the truth even in situations where it is difficult to do so. On the other foot, the whole staff should have respect for the finance office. In this complex world we cannot survive and thrive without excellence in financial decision-making and financial support. We are, almost all of us, needy and dependent in this respect. Having the humility to acknowledge that, and the good fortune of a finance team that treats us gently, is a wonderful example of the servant-leadership logic, by which leadership from one team serves another and is recognised in turn for the leadership it offers.