Businessman withdraws name for ethics award after pushback from activist group

Kansas City, Mo. — A local businessman has withdrawn his name for a leadership and ethics award presented by the local Jesuit-run university after resistance from a group with a long history of opposing the south Kansas City factory he runs, which assembles non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons.

Chris Gentile, president of Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technologies, was set to receive the 2015 Rashford-Lyon Award for Leadership and Ethics from Rockhurst University's Helzberg School of Management on April 9. Gentile, a 1999 graduate of Rockhurst's executive MBA program, has been with Honeywell since 1989.

The Rashford-Lyon Award for Leadership and Ethics honors "those who exemplify high ethical standards of business conduct, and demonstrate excellence in leadership through their initiative, inspiration to others and impact on their community," according to Rockhurst's website.

The award was announced March 12, and Gentile withdrew his name March 25 after the Kansas City-based PeaceWorks -- the city's Nuclear Weapons Freeze Coalition -- objected to the Catholic university honoring an executive of a company that, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, produces 85 percent of the nation's nuclear weapon parts.

"It is difficult for me to understand why a Catholic institution of higher learning would be honoring an executive of a company like Honeywell ... especially an award for 'ethics,' " wrote Georgia Walker in an email to her fellow PeaceWorks members.

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PeaceWorks had a protest scheduled for April 9, the day of the award ceremony. The coalition has a recent history of organizing demonstrations, often ending in arrests, against the Kansas City Plant both for its role in nuclear manufacturing and the contaminants they say the plant releases.

Walker wrote to Rockhurst administration to express PeaceWorks' concerns and hear the university's reasoning for this nomination prior to the demonstration. Walker, however, never had to meet with the university, as shortly after her request to discuss the award, Gentile withdrew his name from consideration and Rockhurst decided not to present an award this year.

Following Gentile's withdrawal, Rockhurst released a statement: "While the University sought to honor Mr. Gentile's work with youth, particularly in the area of science education, it also respects and values the consistent position of the Catholic Church, including Pope Francis' December 2014 statement, on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, which relates to a portion of Honeywell's business."

Pope Francis recently restated the Vatican's long-standing position against nuclear weapons, calling on world leaders and people of faith to join together to end this global threat at the opening of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Pope Francis said that "the humanitarian consequences are predictable and planetary."

"I'm convinced the desire for peace will bear fruit in concrete ways," he said, adding that he hoped "a world without nuclear weapons is possible."

[Soli Salgado is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is ssalgado@ncronline.org.] 

A version of this story appeared in the April 24-May 7, 2015 print issue under the headline: Businessman withdraws name from award after complaints .

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