I have been pondering our business program at the college where I teach. I have been thinking about the frame within which we have defined our mission, etc. Please understand this is not a criticism of the department leadership, but an evolutionary thought process that will hopefully help our department provide a better service to our students.
I have previously written about the topic of teaching business within a Christ-centered liberal arts institution, and have noted that this type of environment is optimal for producing business leaders for the future. I have read multiple books on the subject, but have recently found a short article written by two professors at one of our sister schools that articulates what I think I have been looking for. It is a model for teaching business in a Christ-centered liberal arts environment. The article is entitled “Salt and Light,” and was written in 1992 by Dr. Ken Armstrong and Dr. Mike Wiese. I’d like to share several points from this wonderful piece of work.
They begin the article by exploring the scientific paradigm of education. They note, accurately, that this paradigm has been widely successful for generations, but has had its critics. They also argue that due to changing societal characteristics there is a critical need for a new paradigm, especially within the Christian College realm. They cite Warren Bryan Martin as claiming “that these colleges [Christian Colleges] are best positioned to break away from the paradigm of the elite university and offer an education which places priority on the formation of student character.” The writers then focus specifically on the role of business education within the Christian College. They noted that business education emerged within the Christian College system “as one-dimensional instruction of the subjects of business.” Initially these instructors were lifelong practitioners, “not necessarily educators, and rarely research scholars.”
The way business has been taught in the past is antiquated due to the changing macroenvironment. Armstrong and Wiese identify seven challenges that are pushing for this shift of the business educational paradigm:
Increasing numbers of students coming to Christian institutions to study business.
Increased acceptance of business and other applied professional programs as legitimate fields of studies in a Christian Liberal Arts setting.
The complexity of business skills required by employers.
The sometimes less than adequate administrative skills that are exhibited in operating the local church.
The concern for higher values and standards of conduct.
The rapid growth of the non-profit sector, and its subsequent need for business skills.
The expanded emphasis for hands on experience.
These seven reasons are given for the emergence of business programs into the limelight of Christian Colleges. After they argue that some Christ-centered institutions are providing a business education that is not different than a secular college or university, and after making a compelling argument for a new paradigm, Armstrong and Wiese then describe a model that has become foundational to Anderson University.
This model does recognize that a Christ-centered, liberal arts institution will perform similar duties that secular institutions do, “teaching, research, and service.” But their model also recognizes that the Christian institution has an agenda that is very different than the secular university. This agenda includes “their desire to influence the greater society for good” When we break this down to departments, the business department is responsible to prepare its students to “move into positions of influence within business.” These leaders then are to be salt and light in order to make a difference within their chosen profession.
What then is the role of faculty in this model? I am going to let the authors describe this to you. “The authors strongly feel that if our students are to understand what it means to be salt and light they must see it modeled, and that modeling can be most effective if it includes (but is not limited to)as primary models the faculty members where the student is receiving his professional training.” In other words, faculty living out their desire to be salt and light. In my opinion this is incredibly important. The authors then identify three points of interaction for the faculty member, or business department: Student, Community, and Church.
The authors describe that proper interaction with students as involving the modeling of teaching excellence. I have come to understand that teaching too much in not beneficial to my ability to provide a top level learning event. I have also learned that classroom engagement and enactment outside of the classroom gives a holistic scholar-practitioner element to a topic. This leads to teaching excellence. Armstrong and Wiese state, “We cannot successfully preach excellence while we model mediocrity.”
If I focus just on my thoughts concerning teaching business, after reading this article I am even more convinced that teaching business in a liberal arts environment leads to success for the business student, or teaching excellence. I am also convinced that business disciplines are applied liberal arts where elements of psychology, philosophy, and science meet. As a result, I can appropriately conclude the business department must collaborate more with its colleagues, not less, developing “integrated teaching strategies.”
The second area of interaction is the community. According to the authors, business faculty must keep current, and they must be active providing salt and light to the business community. “Any exchanges involving the discussion of human dignity, integrity, and justice with members of the business community are useful and to be encouraged.” The faculty will then live this in front of their students. This area of the discussion, in my opinion, is the most important part of this discussion. As business faculty we can teach theory in the classroom, but it is the application in community that gives the theory validity.
The third area of interaction of the Armstrong and Wiese article seems to be its weakest point. I think it is due to the assumption that business faculty within a Christian school are active within a Church. However, the writers do make an excellent point about interaction of business faculty with the Church. I think what they are saying is the business faculty, in helping equip students to understand their gifts, prepare students to function as active members within the body of Christ. This action then is comprehensive involving technical, spiritual, and ethical skills to properly function according to those gifts, including administrative gifts required for efficient church management.
I am excited to have found a model that can bring continuity to the business program I am teaching in. But I would like to close this blog by giving credence to the five observations mentioned by the authors. I would also like to add some additional comments of my own.
This model is a working model. It is constantly changing, but it is a model that has worked for 20 years. I think our business faculty should view this as a best practice, thus debating its application at our institution.
This is not a new model, but it is systematic. I think this is something that can expand our program in a quad bottom-line manner. This quad bottom-line includes spiritual, economic, social, and environmental elements.
This is a model for an entire business department not just one member. This to me is a critical element. This cannot be one person’s actions, but the philosophy of the department.
This model leads to increased exposure for other players within the model. “It should sensitize the student to the moral issues that are present in our society, and should open up avenues of dialogue for the student with the business and church communities as he/she struggles with lifelong priorities.” I don’t think I need to add anything to this comment.
The institution of this model will improve interaction between the business department and its stakeholders and display the business department’s struggle with what it means to be salt and light. After reading this article, it is no wonder the business department is the hub of Anderson University.
I apologize for the length of this blog entry, but this to me is an important discussion.
And that is my thought (a long one) for the day!