Religious-Themed Business Course Canceled at ISU in Ames
A business management course was withdrawn from the ISU spring schedule after professors objected.
Iowa State University canceled a business management course that some faculty say would have advocated an evangelical Christian point of view and used a textbook that advised its readers against doing business with nonbelievers.
The course, Application of Biblical Insight into the Management of Business/Organization, was to be taught by Roger Stover, a finance professor. It was structured as an independent study, which undergoes far less scrutiny than regular courses approved by the university. It was advertised on the ISU College of Business' website last fall, but was removed in December after some ISU faculty members objected.
A university spokesman said the business college dean Labh Hira made the decision to cancel the class, but had little comment on the matter beyond that.
The description of the course, found in a cached Google search said, “The goal of this seminar is to employ the Bible for insight into handling the vital issues faced in a business. Topics include building an appropriate team environment, creating a life-work balance, financing decisions and building your integrity. The class will be informal with discussion as the principal focus.”
When Warren Blumenfeld, a professor in the curriculum and instruction department, and Hector Avalos, a professor of religious studies, learned of the class, they were quick to object.
“This is not an attack on religion. This is not an attack on academic freedom,” Blumenfeld said. “We have concerns about academic rigor and constitutionality.”
Blumenfeld and Avalos said teaching the course at a public university violated the separation of church and state because it promoted an evangelical Christian point of view in how to run a business and said that the course failed to meet scholarly standards.
Blumenfeld said the textbook, “How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK: A Biblical Blueprint to Bless Your Business,” was written at an eighth or ninth grade reading level and Stover had no educational background in theology.
“A non-chemist wouldn't teach chemistry,” Avalos said.
Blumenfeld, Avalos, and another faculty member wrote a letter of objection to Stover, Hira, and Rick Dark, the chairman of the accounting and finance department. In January, American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa joined in the objection, according to a report in the Iowa State Daily.
When Blumenfeld and Avalos returned from winter break in January, they put together a petition calling for the elimination of the independent study class that was signed by more than 20 professors before Blumenfeld discovered that Hira reviewed the course and decided that it would not be taught. The course was canceled Dec. 21. Blumenfeld and Avalos have redirected the petition as a request to never reinstate the course.
Dark, who initially approved the course, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, but told the Iowa State Daily, "In reality, the course was too much on the religious side and not enough on the management side."
Stover issued a statement but wouldn't answer any other questions.
He said chapters within the book are titled “Four Mandates to Maximize Your Time,” “The High-Five Principles to Elevate Your People Skills,” “Four Steps to Build your Team by the Book,” and “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,” Stover wrote in the statement.
Avalos purchased a copy of the book and said it suggests that “business partnerships with nonbelievers are strongly discouraged,” a quote from page 173.
But Stover said that was an extreme recommendation and that he didn't agree with much of the text.
“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,” Stover wrote.
But Blumenfeld doesn't buy it.
“This was not an academic discussion on religious concepts applied to business,” he said.
At least some are crying foul about the university's decision to cancel the class.
The Alliance Defense Fund, which advocates for religious freedoms, particularly within the classroom, told Inside Higher Ed that after making adjustments to ensure the class was taught objectively, Iowa State should have allowed the class to continue.
“It is a shame that certain academics and groups on the left … would rather engage in educational censorship than allow true academic freedom,” ADF senior counsel David Cortman wrote in a statement released to Inside Higher Ed. “Any objections to the method of teaching the course could have been addressed without canceling the entire course.”