Wesner Unites Jesuit Values and Business School Education

Thomas Wesner, BC ’90, and his three TAs sat around his desk, mulling over an essay. His office glowed with soft, yellow lighting, reminiscent of a library in Pride and Prejudice. A large, paper-covered desk was centered in the middle of the office, one that was full of books on every economic subject, many of which appeared well read. There were papers in a form of organized chaos on the floor, with personal notes scribbled in the margins. Wesner and his TAs were talking like friends would, as if the person whose essay they were editing mattered to them, and in fact, it did.

The first words from his mouth, barring introductory pleasantries, were: “I really want to help these kids. They deserve it.”

Wesner and his editing team of teaching assistants were working with essays from low-income kids looking to get into private high schools, improving them in order to boost their chances of acceptance to some of the most prestigious secondary education programs in the region. Many of the kids come from places and backgrounds without privilege, without the money it would take to pay off private-school tuition.

This, the siding with the disenfranchised, Wesner said, was a key value that he did not understand during his undergraduate years at BC. He was more concerned with the debaucherous activities of a typical Thursday night, or the weekend happenings of social affairs around Chestnut Hill than the Jesuit tradition.

Wesner said the way the school was run—the Jesuit way—did not resonate with him as it did with students of many years ago, who commuted to campus and were compelled to attend so that they could be, at that time, only men for others. A Double Eagle, having attended both BC and BC High School, Wesner said he did not take advantage of the Jesuit manner of thinking in his education and young professional life. He went on to practice business law after graduating, putting his Ignatian education on the back burner.

But now, as a professor at his alma mater, Wesner explained that BC’s Jesuit-ness is something that is special and ought not to be ignored.

“BC was not as intentionally, explicitly Jesuit when I went here,” he said. “You had to find it. You weren’t introduced to St. Ignatius, there wasn’t an statue. Now, you have Perspectives and Pulse and Courage to Know and all of this introspective stuff—BC is much more well-rounded today.”

There was one moment in particular that brought him back to the Ignatian model after practicing law for several years. In an Agape Latte presentation in December 2015, Wesner described how there was a prominent lawyer in his prestigious downtown law firm, who began to cry during a rehearsed opening statement concerning the case of a paralyzed man. The sadness struck him, and inspired him to leave the practice of law. Shortly after hearing his colleague rehearse his depressing practice, Wesner knew that he had to leave because it just couldn’t make him happy working in such an environment.

“As he’s saying this about this case, it just hit me inside—‘I have to leave here,’” he said. “If this is the best it gets, to make this hypothetical argument before a trial that’s never going to happen, then I need to go. So I quit.”

People questioned his decision. It isn’t often that a well-respected lawyer in an up-and-coming firm decides to uproot his career to go into the field of education, but for Wesner, it was a calling he discovered upon his departure from law. He’s been a professor at a prestigious university for 10 years now, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Now, as a professor who learned the Jesuit tradition through years spent learning in Jesuit schools, Wesner looks deeper into issues that others may fail to appreciate. He said that he experienced a calling back to education, and that not only would he be helping others by teaching, but would be satisfying his own, deepest needs as well.

This led him back to the Carroll School of Management to teach business economics and undergraduate law classes. Surprised by the intelligence and kindness that people have shown him on campus, Wesner attempts to weave those Ignatian values into his classes without the students even knowing it, not only because he benefited from it, but because it is a great way to teach students how to think.

Wesner said that classes like Perspectives, Courage to Know, and Portico are important aspects of a BC education that is another way that the Jesuit model is unique. The values of a business ethics class or volunteering in Boston not only develop the whole person, but are skills that are valuable and attractive to employers. This has caused the value of a BC education to increase and places a greater demand for a BC diploma.

“There are always questions that you can ask that are richer than if we were at some other, say, state university,” he said. “We are granted permission and the license to say ‘Okay, no, go deeper right now.’

Standing, perhaps starkly, in contrast to the stereotypical business school attitude of competing in a dog-eat-dog world, Wesner explained that these values meld perfectly with responsible business. Jesuit values respond to the needs of people in the world. They force us to ask questions like, ‘What can I do better?’

With these questions come answers, yet even Wesner himself didn’t realize that his professors were doing this when he was a sprightly college kid.

“Now I know why my teachers were saying what they were saying to me as a student,” he said. “When I was a student, I really didn’t know what Jesuit meant. My life was going by too fast.”

Now that his life has slowed down, as a college professor with a wife and children, Wesner hopes to impart those lessons on his students, something that his TAs emphasized he did exceptionally well, but not exclusively. Wesner helps students from low socio-economic backgrounds succeed by editing their essays, both at the high school and at the college level. One student emphasized that this is a distinguishing characteristic of his teaching style.

“Professor Wesner is one of the few professors I’ve had who cares about his students as people,” Will Doyle, CSOM ’19, said. “He seeks to educate the whole person by stressing the value of service and helping others. He relates his lectures to current events to demonstrate the value of our education and leads by example.”

He harped that many professors do the same thing, just perhaps not with the intention that Wesner does. Wesner himself said that he hopes it continues because that makes a BC education different.

“There’s so much about the Ignatian pedagogy that would work in a business world, that makes this school in great demand today,” he said. “Because it responds to the needs of people in the world, the deepest needs of people.”

This principle, Wesner said, is what he loves about teaching. It is something unique to Jesuit schools, something that he hungered for as a young adult, and something that he benefited from as a student.

“That’s special,” he said. “That transforms lives.”

October 22, 2017

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