Dr. Joseph McRae Mellichamp is Emeritus Professor of Management Science in the Manderson Graduate School of Business at the University of Alabama and National Faculty Representative for Christian Leadership Ministries. For 25 years, Dr. Mellichamp combined successful academic pursuits with effective Christian ministry activities.
University professors have a wonderful opportunity to identify themselves to both students and colleagues through various discipline papers and/or talks. Unfortunately, only a few professors take advantage of these opportunities due primarily to a lack of preparation. Discipline papers/talks are related to the academic discipline of a professor and may be classified into three major types: position papers, issues papers, and success papers. For ease of communication, I’m going to use the term paper in this chapter to refer to either an oral presentation (talk) or a written paper, the assumption being that a paper would be created first, and a talk might result from a paper.
One exercise every Christian professor should complete is to integrate his Christian worldview with his academic discipline. That is, one should think through and commit to writing the implications of a Christian worldview in one’s discipline. How does the Christian worldview resonate with the discipline? What are the tension points between the Christian worldview and the discipline? How does Christianity impact one’s academic discipline and/or how does one’s academic discipline impact Christianity? How does one’s academic discipline impact the culture? How does Christianity impact practitioners of the discipline? What unique opportunities does the discipline present Christian practitioners of the discipline? Every Christian professor should carefully think through his discipline and answer these and a host of similar questions. The difference between the Christian who happens to be a professor and the professor who happens to be a Christian can be measured by how well one has thought through these issues and come up with meaningful answers.
The professor who has faced the task of integrating his faith with his discipline will understand how he can impact students, colleagues and the institution through the practice of his discipline. Bob Brooks, a finance professor friend at the University of Alabama, has developed a comprehensive document showing what the Bible teaches about money and the use of money. He has had many opportunities to give talks based on the paper in a variety of settings, including academic ones. Phil Bishop’s talk, "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made," is actually a discipline talk -- it grew out of Phil’s examination of his discipline, human physiology, from a Christian perspective. A number of years ago, I presented a paper titled "The Artificial in Artificial Intelligence is Real" at an international symposium that addressed the question, "Is the human mind more than just a very fast, very sophisticated computer?" To write the paper, I had to carefully think through the field of artificial intelligence from a Christian point of view. However, since the symposium was a secular enterprise, the arguments had to be made entirely from a secular frame of reference; I could not resort to biblical arguments. I have presented this talk numerous times since the original symposium in academic settings and have had many fruitful discussions as a result of doing the research.
Christian Leadership Ministries is in the process of collecting examples of position papers from various disciplines. These are available from the Christian Leadership Ministries Website -- http://www.leaderu.com.
The issues paper is similar to the position paper in that it focuses on a particular academic discipline; it differs from the position paper in the sense that it isolates a single issue within the discipline. An issue that crops up in practically every discipline -- even the most sterile ones -- is the issue of ethics. Many academic programs, departments, and colleges are attempting to integrate coverage of ethics into their curricula. To have professors voluntarily integrate and treat ethical issues in their courses is seen by most administrators as a good thing. Now, the wonderful thing about ethics is that there is no honest way of discussing the topic without identifying the sources of ethical standards, and one of the primary sources of ethical standards is religious writings. Many textbooks on ethics will have a section or chapter covering the various sources of ethical standards -- religious writings will be mentioned as a primary source. Once the subject of religious writings is introduced into the discussion, it is a simple matter to suggest that for a Christian, the Bible is a primary source of ethical standards.
In 1989, I was invited to write a chapter in a book being edited by Richard Chewning, Chavanne Professor of Christian Ethics in the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University. The title of the book is Biblical Principles & Business: The Practice (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1990). The title of my chapter is "Applying Biblical Principles in Information Systems and Operations Research." To write this piece, I had to identify the various ethical issues in two major areas of the business enterprise, i.e., information systems and operations research, and to show how the application of biblical principles might mitigate ethical violations in these two areas. Doing the background research necessary to write the chapter is one of the most productive things I accomplished in my academic career; I have had many opportunities to present all or parts of this work primarily in academic settings. As a matter of fact, I used the paper as a lecture in most of my graduate courses to launch discussions of ethical considerations and to identify myself as a Christian to my students.
In business administration, an issues paper in the area of management principles can easily be developed. Some years ago, the late Carl Sagan published an interesting article in, of all places, Parade Magazine titled, "Rules to Live By." [Nov. 28, 1993, pp. 12-14] His paper is especially helpful in introducing a discussion of the place of religious sources in ethical systems. In this piece, Sagan starts with The Golden Rule, which happens to be the most commonly employed management principle in the workplace, and proceeds through a series of other rules to show that what he calls "The Gold-plated Brazen Rule" is actually the preferred rule to use in relating to others. What Sagan fails to realize (or to disclose) is that this rule is actually a special case of the Golden Rule. I have used Sagan’s little article on a number of occasions to talk about managing employees in the workplace. It is a fun exercise to go through his rules with students and to give examples of when the different rules would be advantageous.
We discussed the topic of success talks in the chapter on "Identify Yourself as a Christian." I have generally used two approaches to these talks, depending on the particular audience. For an undergraduate class, the "How to be a Success in Business" talk works well. It certainly answers some important questions students who are facing the prospect of entering the workplace for the first time have. This approach would also be suitable for an MBA class. For classes consisting primarily of doctoral students aspiring to become university and college professors, "A Strategy for Academia" is a good approach. Outlines for both of these talks are included in Exhibit 3-1. You can see from the outlines how I bring spiritual issues into the talk. I merely suggest that spiritual considerations are important and should be taken into account as one pursues success. Again, my purpose is not to share the Gospel. It is just a reminder and a challenge to consider the spiritual dimension of life. I have given both of these lectures in classroom situations, mainly on requests from students, and have received positive feedback.
© Copyright 1997, Joseph McRae Mellichamp
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