A recently proposed independent study course for the spring 2012 semester has been canceled by the finance department. Finance 290X: Application of Biblical Insight into the Management of Business/Organization, a one-credit class first proposed by finance professor Roger Stover last semester, was meant to teach students how biblical principles can be applied to managing a business.

However, after the class was made known to the public, a number of ISU faculty members as well as outside groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa objected. They claimed that because Iowa State is a public university, it was a violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution, which outlines the separation of church and state.

"This was a course where the instructor wanted to discuss issues relating to management and how that might be guided by biblical interpretation," said Rick Dark, chairman of the accounting and finance department, who originally green-lighted the course.

Warren Blumenfeld, a professor in the department of curriculum and instruction, was one of the first to be notified back in October about the class and immediately — along with Hector Avalos, professor of philosophy and religious studies — sent a letter to Stover, Dark and Labh Hira, dean of the College of Business, raising their concerns about the class.

"This is a public institution where we can teach world religion, but we can't promote it. This class was promoting it and looking at it through one evangelical perspective," Blumenfeld said. "This was basically a Sunday school course where the students are getting university credit, and what that does is it lowers the standards of our university."

Blumenfeld continued on to state that he initially contacted Stover to get some information about the contents of the course. He came to the conclusion that Stover "did not have formal training" to teach it, in addition to the fact that "no one in the religion department was ever notified about the course."

"This was not an issue of academic freedom, which was what [Stover] was arguing," Blumenfeld said. "This violates two principles: the Constitution and academic rigor ... That is what we are objecting to."

Avalos agreed, saying, "The instructor has no expertise in either academic biblical studies or religious studies, and this raises the question of whether Finance 290X is simply a means to obtain college credit for religious instruction rather than for an objective academic study of different Christian viewpoints about business."

In a response, Stover argued that his proposed course was in fact an increasing trend among universities and defended his credentials to teach the class.

"I fully agree with Avalos that I have no formal training in biblical or religious studies. However, I do argue that I can be considered an expert in business with some knowledge of the Bible ... I would argue that I am uniquely qualified to teach this course," Stover said. "The method of using the Bible for insight into the management of business organizations is growing. We need to make our students critically aware of what this approach presents."

Stover went on to say that many respected universities such as Yale and Princeton "are actively examining the role of spirituality in business management." He also pointed to several companies such as Chik-fil-A and Hobby Lobby, which "openly display their use of spiritual and often Christian principles in their organization."

From October on, awareness of the class began to spread and eventually Blumenfeld and Avalos sent a petition, signed by more than 20 faculty members, to ISU Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Hoffman to protest the implementation of the course.

In addition to the framework of the course, there were also significant objections to the planned course text. The book, titled "How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK: A Biblical Blueprint to Bless Your Business" by Christian motivational speaker and business consultant Dave Anderson, contained serious red flags, Avalos said.

"[Anderson] is not a known biblical scholar ... This book is a Christian sectarian manual, not an academic textbook," Avalos said. "For example, one of its suggestions on page 173 is that 'business partnerships with nonbelievers are strongly discouraged.'"

Anderson, the author of the book, had a more positive outlook on the practical application of the book, but also agreed that there could be some concerns using the book in a public university course.

"Using ancient wisdom from the Bible, we can see that this stuff works. The Bible tells how to lead and balance your life," Anderson said. "I could see where Christian schools would accept my book, but [it] would possibly be a little more touchy subject in a public university."

Stover, on the other hand, defended the use of the book for the course because the goal of the course was to examine the book and draw conclusions based on its content.

"The goal was to critically examine the book's recommendations based on our existing knowledge from professional management, not theological, literature. That is why I am qualified to lead the discussion," Stover said.

By the end of fall semester, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa had also become aware of the course. Randall Wilson, the ACLU's legal director, made it very clear that this proposed course was crossing the separation line between church and state.

"Our concerns were basically that based on our support for the establishment clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the government from endorsing or promoting any religions, it was pretty clear that this class was advancing a religious agenda," Wilson said.

The establishment clause of the Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" and, according to the ACLU, means that any publicly funded institution cannot promote any type of religion.

"We agreed that it was proper for a university to teach about religion, but it was quite another to get your students to accept religion," Wilson said. "Bottom line is a state university cannot become a proponent of religious views and the university should be sensitive to that ... We think canceling the class was the right decision."

By late December, the course was officially canceled by Dark and the finance department, and it is no longer being offered by the university as a course. At press time, Stover also has not formally appealed the cancellation of the class.

"In reality, the course was too much on the religious side and not enough on the management side," Dark said.

Avalos and Blumenfeld appear to be satisfied with the cancelation of the course.

"I should stress that those of us who are very concerned about the separation of religion and government on our campus are very grateful to Dr. Rick Dark and Dr. Labh Hira for listening to our concerns about the course. The College of Business did the right thing," Avalos said.

Stover expressed dissatisfaction with the end status of the course.

"I was excited about leading a critical examination by students at ISU of a suggestion that the Bible may provide insight into how to practically manage an effective organization," Stover said. "I was equally disappointed when I was informed the independent study was canceled."

(10) comments

Tim Lubinus
Tim Lubinus

Professors Avalos and Blumenfeld again advocate the suppression of students’ constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly at Iowa State University by demanding strict adherence to their own philosophical prejudices against Christianity. Again ISU backs down to this intolerance. For these professors, no deviation is allowed from their tightly defined world and life view (i.e. their religion); they are not asking for freedom of religion or thought for themselves, they want to use the power of the state to force all to comply to their specific philosophical system (religion). The wishes of students, parents, taxpayers, and other professors may not be considered; all must submit to the professors’ doctrine defining proper religious study for ISU students.

This use of the state to support a particular religion (in this case Avalos and Blumenfelds’ worldview and value system, i.e. religion) is exactly what the first amendment clause is designed to protect us against. The first amendment teaches us that the state should not favor a particular religious system, nor restrict other faiths and thought. Avalos and Blumenfeld want state protection for their dogma and want state restriction of others’ views. While they feel the freedom to disparage the academic credentials of professor Stover, they speak as experts on constitutional law; not an academic specialty of either professor! ISU’s ban of a course because of a couple of professors’ intolerance of another professor’s religion is unbecoming of ISU professors and rational thinkers across Iowa who value freedom of thought.

Kelly Shaw
Kelly Shaw

I fail to see the establishment of religion here by a public institution. It would seem that Professor Stover is simply suggesting an alternative to business management here as an elective for students at ISU. Heaven forbid we acknowledge the Christian tradition in this country and the possibility that there are other managerial considerations to take into consideration rather than those taught simply out of a management textbook.

The establishment clause of the first amendment forbids the establishment of a religion by the government. However, at the same time, it also guarantees the free exercise thereof. There is nothing in the 1st Amendment that states that public institutions must be hostile toward religion. In fact, the Court's interpretation of the Constitution holds that hostility toward religion is just as unconstitutional as the establishment of religion, a point oftentimes lost to the ACLU. I would guess that the critical thinking students in Dr. Stover's class could have made up their own opinion, but have been denied that opportunity out of political correctness.

Daniel Fischer
Daniel Fischer

Under the nation's current jurisprudence of the Establishment Clause, this was the proper action. The Supreme Court hasn't adopted an "Accommodation" approach as the other commenters seem to wish/believe (although Scalia and a few other Justices are trying). Under the "Neutrality" theory, which is generally the Court's interpretation now, a governmental actor can't endorse a particular religion. By offering a class essentially stating that having Christian and biblical beliefs will help one run a successful business, the university would probably be violating the Establishment Clause.

This has nothing to do with Free Exercise (students are free to study outside of a government context, like a state university, how the bible can be used in business management; businesses can still be religious).

Although the university's decision was correct from a constitutional perspective, I suppose these types of things are always going to be controversial.

carolakey
Carol Akey

I applaud Professor Stover and Chairman Dark for making this course available to students. As Dave Anderson said, the Biblical ideas do work in business. Chik-fil-A and Hobby Lobby are great examples. Our students deserve to have these ideas introduced to them, especially those going into business. It is disappointing to me that the ISU students who would have desired this information were denied the opportunity to take the course from Professor Stover.

Perhaps Professors Blumenfeld, Avalos, the 20 that signed the petition, and Executive Vice President Hoffman would benefit personally if they took the course from Professor Stover first before cancelling it. I believe they would find the business principles in the content of the course very valuable, informative, and concrete in providing practical tools for the themselvess and the students.

Chris Cox
Christopher Cox

I am wondering how this would concern itself with the establishment clause. It says that CONGRESS shall pass no law/favor one religious institution over another.

I understand that we are a public, and by extension, related to the state, but this class, from the description provided, doesn't seem to be favoring Christianity. From what I gathered, they would be analyzing the business sense found in The Bible. It isn't titled "Why Christianity Is The Best Choice For Your Business." It's about how/if The Bible's guidance is applicable to business. With real life examples like Chik-Fil-A (a company that has doubled the number of locations in the past year and has a $4 billion revenue), I don't see this as being instructive of religion; rather, I see it as an examination of certain practices unique to those who subscribe to those ideals.

Now, if it's a matter of equality of religion or an opposition to one being more favored, then go ahead and teach also about Muslim businesses, or Hindu businesses, etc. If you can find books about business and the correlating religion, go ahead and make those courses available as well, or put them all in one course titles "Religion and Business."

But right now, I fail to see how this is an issue relating to the Establishment clause, and as such, I feel this is unjust.

Mind you, those are just my two cents.

Rob Stone
Rob Stone

Mr. Cox, had the course been "Religion and Business" there probably would have been no controversy. Such a class would examine how religion impacts business practices and how business influences religious practice.

But the proposed course sought to teach students how to apply Judeo-Christian biblical teachings into business practices. A public university can teach ABOUT religion but should not promote religious practice.

Mr. Lubinus is quite wrong. No one "advocate[s] the suppression of students’ constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly at Iowa State University."

Of course the issue here is the teaching of a course, not prohibiting anyone from practicing their religion or assembling. The issue is what the institution can and cannot do, not what individuals can do. Prohibiting a public university from offering a class that teaches religious practice does not curtail anyone's freedom to practice their religion.

No one has the right to have religious classes made available to them by the state.

Daniel Fischer
Daniel Fischer

Mr. Cox, the First Amendment (and thus, the Establishment Clause) applies to state and local government actors through the Fourteenth Amendment.

"This was a course where the instructor wanted to discuss issues relating to management and how that might be guided by biblical interpretation." A university saying that following the bible will help managers run a business implicitly endorses Christianity.

This is the law under the Supreme Court's current precedent. Whether the Court's current interpretation of the Establishment Clause is the best view is another question.

rstover
Roger Stover

Statement by Roger Stover, professor of finance, Iowa State University

What is missing in all the discussion about this one-credit independent study offering (Finance
290X: Application of Biblical Insight into the Management of Business/Organization) is that this was a
proposed business management class. Typical chapters of the assigned book are “Four Mandates to
Maximize Your Time,” “The High-Five Principles to Elevate Your People Skills,” “Four Steps to Build your
Team by the Book,” “How to Lead Through a Crisis.” These are hardly theological issues – they are
management issues. This was to be a critical evaluation of a popular book’s prescriptions. Some news
accounts noted one extreme recommendation of the book. I would add to that in that I professionally
disagree with much of the book’s recommendation on borrowing money. That’s the point. My
intention was to have the students study academic management literature on the topics of the book
and use that background to evaluate whether the author’s suggestions have any merit. This form of
inquiry is what business school faculty do all the time. Given the growth of interest in the role of
spirituality in business management, our students may well be exposed to this in their career. I feel it is
incumbent on us to prepare them for such exposure.

Hector Avalos
Hector Avalos

Dr. Stover's statement omits crucial pertinent information that shows the sectarian Christian nature of the textbook he chose and the class he proposed.

Religious studies at public universities are governed by, among other decisions, a Supreme Court decision known as Abington v. Schempp (1963). From that decision, religious studies programs have understood that they can teach ABOUT religion, but they cannot TEACH RELIGION. That is to say, we can be descriptive, but not prescriptive in our teaching.

Thus, we can say that X religion believes Y, and A religion believes B. But we cannot say that a student must believe and/or practice Y or B.

Finance 290x, by its very title, already is being prescriptive: "Application of Biblical Insights Application of Biblical Insight into the Management of a Business/ Organization."

Thus, this course does not sound like a simple management class, but a management class that prescribes religious and biblical “insight” to conduct management.

The textbook (Dave Anderson, How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK: A Biblical Blueprint to Bless Your Business [Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011]) that the instructor chose also advocates a very specific Christian point of view, and is not an objective survey of what different Christian groups believe about how to run a business.

The entire purpose of the book is clear in the preface: "How to Run Your Business by the Book is written for everyone wanting to build their organization or return it to a rock-solid foundation of Biblical principles" (p. xiii).

"The Book" is, of course, the Bible, but not just any Bible. It is one Christian definition of "the Bible," as the Jewish Bible does not contain the New Testament because traditional Judaism sees the New Testament as antithetical to God's word. In terms of emphasis, the textbook really focuses on Jesus and the New Testament, which again shows no awareness of how complex “biblical” can even become.

Thus, by choosing a textbook that seeks to apply the insights of the Christian Bible to management, Dr. Stover already is selecting a textbook that privileges the prescriptions of one religion over another.

If the course studied how different religions and/or versions of Christianity do business, then that is one thing.

As soon as you say, however, that this is HOW YOU SHOULD conduct management or business as a Christian, then you have crossed the line to being prescriptive because there are just too many interpretations of Christianity to avoid privileging one over another.

Dr. Stover provides chapter titles to justify the use of his textbook. But even in the chapters he mentions, it is clear that a sectarian Christian view is being advocated.

Consider one chapter he mentions: "Four Mandates to: Maximize Your Time." This makes it sound as though this is meant as some non-religious management directive that can be applied by people of all religions until you start reading the chapter.

One of those “mandates” is "Time management Mandate #3:Know God's Will for your life" (p. 43). Since there are diverse interpretations of what "knowing God's will" even means, then clearly this textbook has already chosen one Christian version of "God's will," and made it normative for management. Any evaluation of this directive is theological, by definition, and not purely a management issue as he claims.

Every chapter title Dr. Stover mentions is replete with directives based on biblical passages, and a very sectarian understanding of those biblical passages.

Even Dave Anderson the author of that textbook voiced uncertainty as to whether this book was suitable for an academic course in a public university. He is quoted as saying: "I could see where Christian schools would accept my book, but [it] would possibly be a little more touchy subject in a public university." Thus, it is puzzling that Dr. Stover would not have had even more misgivings.

Given these facts, selecting this textbook leads us to posit a last two possibilities: A) The instructor is not familiar enough with the field of religious and biblical studies to have chosen a more objective textbook; B) From the outset, he intended to advocate the specific religious viewpoint of the textbook for how to run a business.

The claim that he intended to offer a critical assessment is not a good argument because that would imply that he has sufficient training in biblical and religious studies to even offer such a critical assessment.

However, even by his own admission, the instructor does not possess such academic expertise, and so it leads us back to the perception that he could not have had such an intention from the outset.

The fact is that is that there are sound reasons for the study of how religion and business interact, and one can construct good objective surveys of such an interaction.

One book that might have been useful is: Lake Lambert III, Spirituality, Inc. Religion in the American Workplace (New York: New York University, 2009). This is a more objective survey of both the benefits and problems that using religion and the workplace can bring.

One of Lambert's conclusion is that "Religious diversity in the workplace will undoubtedly grow, creating great opportunities for both inter-religious dialogue, and inter-religious conflict with lawsuits and friendships produced as a result" (p. 175).

Dr. Stover also mentions that there are programs at Yale and Princeton that study the role of religion and business. True enough.

Yale and Princeton are private universities, not public universities, and Yale has Divinity School for training ministers. That is not the case at ISU.

More importantly, these programs are structured very differently from the way Dr. Stover is approaching this subject. The programs at Yale and Princeton are interdisciplinary, wherein scholars of religion and scholars of business offer expertise in their respective areas.

Dr. Stover chose not to avail himself at all of such cooperation with religious studies scholars at ISU that would have made his course more fruitful and less sectarian.

Again, this generates the perception, at least among some faculty, that the instructor intended to promote his own sectarian view rather than have a genuine academic discussion of the variety of views that Christians hold concerning business management. These models can range from socialist models to capitalist models, and a lot of other things in between.

Hector Avalos
Hector Avalos

Dr. Stover's statement omits crucial pertinent information that shows the sectarian Christian nature of the textbook he chose and the class he proposed.

Religious studies at public universities are governed by, among other decisions, a Supreme Court decision known as Abington v. Schempp (1963). From that decision, religious studies programs have understood that they can teach ABOUT religion, but they cannot TEACH RELIGION. That is to say, we can be descriptive, but not prescriptive in our teaching.

Thus, we can say that X religion believes Y, and A religion believes B. But we cannot say that a student must believe and/or practice Y or B.

Finance 290x, by its very title, already is being prescriptive: "Application of Biblical Insight into the Management of a Business/ Organization."

Thus, this course does not sound like a simple management class, but a management class that prescribes religious and biblical “insight” to conduct management.

The textbook (Dave Anderson, How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK: A Biblical Blueprint to Bless Your Business [Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011]) that the instructor chose also advocates a very specific Christian point of view, and is not an objective survey of what different Christian groups believe about how to run a business.

The entire purpose of the book is clear in the preface: "How to Run Your Business by the Book is written for everyone wanting to build their organization or return it to a rock-solid foundation of Biblical principles" (p. xiii).

"The Book" is, of course, the Bible, but not just any Bible. It is one Christian definition of "the Bible," as the Jewish Bible does not contain the New Testament because traditional Judaism sees the New Testament as antithetical to God's word. In terms of emphasis, the textbook really focuses on Jesus and the New Testament, which again shows no awareness of how complex “biblical” can even become.

Thus, by choosing a textbook that seeks to apply the insights of the Christian Bible to management, Dr. Stover already is selecting a textbook that privileges the prescriptions of one religion over another.

If the course studied how different religions and/or versions of Christianity do business, then that is one thing.

As soon as you say, however, that this is HOW YOU SHOULD conduct management or business as a Christian, then you have crossed the line to being prescriptive because there are just too many interpretations of Christianity to avoid privileging one over another.

Dr. Stover provides chapter titles to justify the use of his textbook. But even in the chapters he mentions, it is clear that a sectarian Christian view is being advocated.

Consider one chapter he mentions: "Four Mandates to Maximize Your Time." This makes it sound as though this is meant as some non-religious management directive that can be applied by people of all religions until you start reading the chapter.

One of those “mandates” is "Time management Mandate #3: Know God's Will for your life" (p. 43). Since there are diverse interpretations of what "knowing God's will" even means, then clearly this textbook has already chosen one Christian version of "God's will," and made it normative for management. Any evaluation of this directive is theological, by definition, and not purely a management issue as he claims.

Every chapter title Dr. Stover mentions is replete with directives based on biblical passages, and a very sectarian understanding of those biblical passages.

Even Dave Anderson the author of that textbook voiced uncertainty as to whether this book was suitable for an academic course in a public university. He is quoted as saying: "I could see where Christian schools would accept my book, but [it] would possibly be a little more touchy subject in a public university." Thus, it is puzzling that Dr. Stover would not have had even more misgivings.

Given these facts, selecting this textbook leads us to posit a last two possibilities: A) The instructor is not familiar enough with the field of religious and biblical studies to have chosen a more objective textbook; B) From the outset, he intended to advocate the specific religious viewpoint of the textbook for how to run a business.

The claim that he intended to offer a critical assessment is not a good argument because that would imply that he has sufficient training in biblical and religious studies to even offer such a critical assessment.

However, even by his own admission, the instructor does not possess such academic expertise, and so it leads us back to the perception that he could not have had such an intention from the outset.

The fact is that is that there are sound reasons for the study of how religion and business interact, and one can construct good objective surveys of such an interaction.

One book that might have been useful is: Lake Lambert III, Spirituality, Inc. Religion in the American Workplace (New York: New York University, 2009). This is a more objective survey of both the benefits and problems that using religion and the workplace can bring.

One of Lambert's conclusion is that "Religious diversity in the workplace will undoubtedly grow, creating great opportunities for both inter-religious dialogue, and inter-religious conflict with lawsuits and friendships produced as a result" (p. 175).

Dr. Stover also mentions that there are programs at Yale and Princeton that study the role of religion and business. True enough.

Yale and Princeton are private universities, not public universities, and Yale has a Divinity School for training ministers. That is not the case at ISU.

More importantly, these programs are structured very differently from the way Dr. Stover is approaching this subject. The programs at Yale and Princeton are interdisciplinary, wherein scholars of religion and scholars of business offer expertise in their respective areas.

Dr. Stover chose not to avail himself at all of such cooperation with religious studies scholars at ISU that would have made his course more fruitful and less sectarian.

Again, this generates the perception, at least among some faculty, that the instructor intended to promote his own sectarian view rather than have a genuine academic discussion of the variety of views that Christians hold concerning business management. These models can range from socialist models to capitalist models, and a lot of other things in between.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.