Our Rich History: The growth of a strong business program at Thomas More, a liberal arts college

By Tom Ward
Thomas More University

Part 40 of Our Series: “Retrospect and Vista II: Thomas More College/University, 1971-2021” 

Decades ago, some advocates of the traditional liberal arts regarded courses in business as somewhat of an anomaly that did not belong in the curriculum.

Frank Luken, Commerce Division Faculty and Vice President of VMC. (TMU Archives.)

Educating students for business seemed too much like “job training” that would more properly be carried out in a college that focused on the practical aspects of preparation for a career, rather than being part of a concentration of broader intellectual disciplines in the liberal arts. So it appeared in the distant past at Villa Madonna College, which presented the college administration with a dilemma: although the liberal arts credentials of business courses were questioned, they were always among the most popular with students. But over the decades, problems were alleviated by the dedicated and resourceful business faculty who built up a strong and challenging academic program of high standards for business majors.

In 1952, some faculty from Villa Madonna College attended a two-day workshop at Bellarmine College in Louisville to study its “concentration program,” which VMC then adopted. The concentration program instituted a core curriculum that focused on religion, philosophy, and history that was “designed to develop moral character, impart religious knowledge, to develop the intellect, and to prepare young men and women to face current problems in light of Christian principles” (Retrospect and Vista, Sr. Irmina Saelinger, OSB, 1971, p. 35). Individual students would also include courses for their chosen major and perhaps a minor.

Of course, religion, philosophy, and history were central to traditional liberal arts studies. Yet it was at this same time that VMC introduced its Commerce Division. Beginning in fall 1952, this division included business administration and economics, with accounting added the following year. Its stated aim was “to provide students with concentration in one of the branches of commerce against the background of the liberal arts” (VMC Catalog, 1953-1955, p. 29). The initial faculty was comprised of Fr. Thomas Middendorf, Mr. Frank Luken (who also served for a time as vice president of VMC), and Mr. Walter Behler, though the number quickly increased.

Accounting Department Faculty, ca. 1970: Marvin Grant, Vincent Gilday, and Richard Hoffman. (TMU Archives)

One might wonder how well the new division was received by VMC’s liberal arts faculty; opinions expressed by President Murphy ten years later are telling in this regard. In a February 19, 1962 memo, “re: Commerce in a Liberal Arts College,” Msgr. Murphy told Commerce faculty that he opposed further “specialization” of courses offered by the Commerce Division — the objective of a liberal arts education “should be to teach the student ‘how to live’ and only incidentally and subsequently ‘how to make a living.’” He was concerned that the essential liberal arts courses would cease to be the “ruling disciplines” for commerce students. He further noted that “rightly or wrongly, many faculty and students regard these fields as less intellectually demanding than other fields,” so it was preferable to “beef up” the current courses—especially to focus on Christian values—than to add new, more specialized courses; he completely rejected the idea that there should be a “School of Business.” And although Msgr. Murphy appreciated “the intellectual honesty and dedicated purpose” of the faculty, he feared its philosophy was moving in a direction incommensurate with VMC’s liberal arts orientation (Murphy to Commerce Faculty, Feb. 19, 1962, TMU Archives). One might also wonder if the commerce faculty felt there was a bias against them. At any rate, the division would need to overcome negative perceptions to be fully accepted.

Part of the problem may have been the compound nature of the Commerce Division. The combination of three related, though distinct, departments made it difficult to pursue a single objective. To further complicate matters, a Department of Business Education was incorporated into the division for the 1962–1963 academic year (discontinued for 1968–1969). In 1963–1964, the Accounting Department was separated from the division and stood on its own.

The difficulties inherent in this compound nature were highlighted in a Commerce Division self-study report written in 1968 as part of the college’s preparation for reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). By this time, the division consisted only of Business Administration and Economics. No author is listed for this report, but he emphasized that he would be brutally honest about the negatives of the division, which by this time was close to containing the largest enrollments of any departments of Thomas More College.

The main problem was that Business Administration and Economics were “two radically different fields” — Economics was a social science that “embraces a specific corpus of knowledge which is valuable in itself, even apart from practical applications,” while Business Administration, “although demanding knowledge of scientific economic principles, is a practical art.” In other words, “Economics is part of the liberally educated man’s body of knowledge; Business Administration provides training for an important vocation which the liberally educated man may pursue” (Commerce Division Self-Study Report, 1968, p. 2, TMU Archives). In spite of this critique, the two disciplines remained linked together by continuing to share the same chair and other faculty, even after they ceased to be collectively titled the Commerce Division in 1976-1977.

Whatever the arrangements were, the fortunes of the Commerce Division and various departments depended on the quality of the professors who led them. In the 1950s and the 1960s, the Commerce Division added several faculty members who would be stalwarts for decades to come, in particular, Rudolph Morow and Vincent Gilday, in business administration and accountancy respectively. In 1967 Donald Ostasiewski was added for business administration. Over the long run, these three would guide the growth and development of business as a strong academic component of the liberal arts college.

Business Administration-Economics Faculty, ca. 1972: Donald Ostasiewski, Rudolph “Rudy” Morow, David Ashley, Dr. Edward Duggan, and Dr. George Euskirchen. (TMU Archives)

Rudolph “Rudy” Morow was born of Croatian immigrants in 1926. He came to VMC from Hammond, Indiana, in 1956. He received a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Indiana and a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University. Before beginning his thirty-seven-year career with the college, he worked for the Freeman Shoe Corporation in Beloit, Wisconsin, and the Magnesium Corporation of America (The Triad, Sept. 17, 1956, p. 3, TMU Archives).

Besides being a longtime professor in business administration and economics, Morow served in multiple other roles, including as chair of the Faculty Building Committee for the planning of the new campus in Crestview Hills in the 1960s. In 1980 Prof. Morow led the TMC Business Administration Department in applying for membership in the federal Small Business Institute that funded universities and colleges to assist small businesses with management counseling and technical support (Small Business Administration Award, October 1, 1980). He created the Floraetta Morow Scholarship in 1988 for education majors, which was renamed the Morow Family Scholarship with the inclusion of business majors in 2008 (“In Memoriam Rudolph ‘Rudy’ Morow, 1926-2009,” TMU Archives).

By all accounts, Rudy Morow was an inspirational teacher for those who took his classes. He kept in touch with many of his former students and was proud of their accomplishments. Even after he retired in 1991, he continued to teach evening classes and was granted emeritus status in 1993. He died on November 12, 2009.

Professor Morow also had an interest in athletics, often attending college basketball and baseball games. The story is told that one day, Fr. Murphy followed him to his car and saw a bag of golf clubs in his trunk. The president immediately saw a way to fill a need at the college and told Rudy, “You are now the golf coach” (Moreover, Fall 2010, p. 9). Whether that tale is true or not, Morow did become the golf coach and held the position for twenty years.

Although he did not join the Business faculty until ten years later, Donald Ostasiewski had an equally strong impact on the department. Ostasiewski (often simply called “Don O” at TMC) attained a master’s degree in Economics at the University of Cincinnati in 1965 and joined the VMC faculty the following year. During his tenure with the college, he taught both business administration and economics and was also chair of both. He “focused primarily on strategic management and management of innovation and technology” (Moreover, Fall 2010, p. 9).

Tom Gilday

In light of his interest in management, Ostasiewski served as director of the Thomas More Institute for Management Education and Services (T.I.M.E.S.), forming a partnership between TMC’s Department of Business Administration and Right Associates (management consultants) to create the Right Lecture Series, beginning in 1996, that focused on Human Resources. In 1997 he aligned the college with Comair [Airlines] for a “strategic partnership for continuous management development” that was called “Comair College.” TMC provided Comair College with business administration personnel to offer management development workshops, seminars, and other opportunities that would lead participants through a certification system that could usher them into TMC’s Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs (Proposal for Comair College, Oct. 1997, pp. 1 & 3, probably authored by Prof. Ostasiewski, TMU Archives).

Prof. Ostasiewski was also committed to education for working adults and helped establish the Thomas More Accelerated Program (TAP) in the early 1990s. See: https://www.nkytribune.com/2022/01/our-rich-history-the-thomas-more-accelerated-program-tap-becomes-a-reality/. Part of the time he spent teaching at Thomas More, he was also an adjunct professor at Xavier University and the College of Mt. St. Joseph, and in the Health/Planning Administration Program of the University of Cincinnati. His interest in healthcare led him to chair the steering board of the Center of Health Care Science and Management that partnered with St. Elizabeth Hospital (Moreover, Fall 2010, p. 9). Ostasiewski continued to teach until he contracted cancer. He died on October 7, 2010.

Although the Department of Accountancy seemed somewhat peripheral to Business concerns after it was separated from the Commerce Division in 1963-1964, some credit hours in accounting were always required for a degree in Business Administration. Vincent Gilday served as a professor and chair of the Accountancy Department (1965-1971, 1975-1980) for many years. Having been born in Cincinnati in 1915, his entire time in school was spent in the Cincinnati area. Gilday served in an anti-aircraft artillery battalion in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After the war, he worked as an independent public accountant for the Ohio State Treasurer and earned a Bachelor of Science in Commerce degree from the Salmon P. Chase College School of Commerce in May 1955 (Vincent Gilday, TMC Faculty Biographical Sketches, various year, TMU Archives).

Vincent Gilday was hired at VMC to begin teaching in the summer school in 1960. While on the VMC Commerce Division faculty, Professor Gilday became a Certified Public Accountant in 1962 and completed an MBA at Xavier University in 1965. Besides teaching accounting, he also taught courses on taxation and at times was engaged as a private consultant in both accounting and taxation; he also maintained memberships in several professional organizations (Vincent Gilday, TMC Faculty Biographical Sketches, various years, TMU Archives).

Professor Gilday always attempted in many ways to keep his courses up-to-date with current practices. Unfortunately, other faculty on the Committee on Rank and Promotion thought that the standards for accountancy were not rigorous enough. In 1966, Academic Dean Fr. Charles Rooks wrote to Gilday to inform him that the committee had decided that “research and publication would be expected from the faculty in Accountancy as from the faculty of other departments” for promotion to ranks of associate professor and professor (Rooks to Gilday, Mar. 9, 1966, TMU Archives). Even four years later, Fr. Rooks told Gilday that he had not recommended him for promotion to Associate Professor because of “insufficient evidence of scholarly progress demonstrated by research and publication” (Rooks to Gilday, Aug. 12, 1970, TMU Archives).

Coach Rudy Morow (third from right) with the 1960 Golf Team. (TMU Archives)

Eventually, the requirements for promotion were satisfied by demonstrating that Professor Gilday’s accomplishments had “long been recognized as the equivalent of the Ph D. by the Southern Association” (SACS) (unattributed memo to James Ebben, academic dean, Nov. 7, 1974, TMU Archives), and he was elevated by the Rank and Promotion Committee to associate professor in 1975 (Ebben to President DeGraff, May 30, 1975, TMU Archives). He taught as a full-time professor until fall 1980, at which time he continued to teach part-time. He retired completely from TMC in 1985 and passed away on May 7, 1988 (Vincent Gilday Obituary, May 9, 1988).

Vincent’s son, Thomas (Tom) Gilday, followed his father’s profession. Not surprisingly, Tom was a TMC graduate in accountancy (1975) and joined the accounting faculty in 1980. Like his father, he was a CPA and attained an MBA (Thomas Gilday, TMC Faculty Biographical Sketches, various years, TMU Archives). When Tom retired in 2020, the department was indebted to the Gildays for having together taught accountancy at the college for a combined sixty years.

Another professor who deserves recognition is Dr. George Euskirchen, who was a mainstay of economics for decades. A native of Cincinnati, George earned a BA in industrial management at the University of Cincinnati in 1963. He began teaching at TMC in 1970 and completed his doctorate in economics, also at UC, in 1974, which made him one of only two PhDs among the early Commerce Division faculty. He filled the position of chair for both business administration and economics when the two were linked together, as did other faculty of the business-related departments. He retired from TMC at the end of the spring 2014 semester.

In spite of the best efforts of the full-time faculty of the business-related departments, many things were beyond their control. Even though their enrollments were always among the highest in the college, their pleas for more full-time faculty (and a decrease in heavy reliance on adjuncts) and resources often went unmet because of financial considerations.

The business-related departments also had to contend with prevailing perceptions. At a 1981 Business Administration-Economics Department meeting, academic dean, Sr. M. Laurence Budde, SND, “voiced some concern over students getting a Liberal arts approach; UAP scores in humanities, rather low, and many students taking these tests are business Majors. Not much of a solution could be offered for this” (Minutes of department meeting, Nov. 30, 1981, TMU Archives). It seemed that changes were to be expected as TMC entered the 1980s, and they became imminent as the presidency of Dr. Thomas Coffey (1982-1986) progressed.

Tom Ward is the Archivist of Thomas More University. He holds an MA in History from Xavier University, Cincinnati. He can be contacted at [email protected].

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at [email protected]. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History and Gender Studies at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.