UNC Pembroke business professorDr. John Parnell was presented the Spirit of Inquiry Award on December 1 by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Dr. Parnell is UNCP’s William Henry Belk Distinguished Professor of Management in the School of Business.
The award recognizes inspired instruction that encourages “expression, investigation and inquiry.” Dr. Parnell was nominated for the award by Damos Anderson, a UNCP senior who took Parnell’s Ethics and Capitalism course.
Anderson said Dr. Parnell opened his eyes. “This class provided me an answer to one of life’s most difficult questions: ‘How to live life?’” he said. “I can’t express the answer in a more perfect way than the author (Ayn Rand) herself. This course taught me ‘the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute.’
“Dr. Parnell is one of the most challenging teachers that I have ever had in my life,” Anderson continued. “In his course, it’s not about a difficult math problem; he challenges your core. He challenges the things you take as concrete in your life, your absolutes. Few people can accept such a challenge, I’m happy I did.”
Giving the class the ultimate compliment, Anderson added, “I will be sitting through his course in the spring, even though I received an ‘A’ in the course. That’s how much meaning this course has brought to my life.”
Headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., the Pope Center is a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving higher education in North Carolina and the nation. The award criteria noted the judges were seeking great courses, “the ones that keep you on the edge of your seat, or made you forget about waiting for the bell.”
For his part, Dr. Parnell said he felt honored by the award and to be nominated by a student. An active scholar, Dr. Parnell has published several books and more than a hundred articles on management. The course and the award are unique experiences for him.
“This is the first time I’ve taught a course with extensive use of a novel,” Dr. Parnell said of “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. “It’s my favorite novel because it is a great story with interesting characters and deep meaning.
“More importantly, the students enjoy the class,” he said. “They are excited to talk about it.”
The book and curriculum have a history. The course is supported in part by Branch Banking and Trust (BB&T) via an endowment that purchases “Atlas Shrugged” for every business major at UNCP. When finalized in 2016, the endowment will fund two endowed distinguished professorships in the School of Business, totaling $1 million.
“BB&T established several similar endowments at universities, and they ask that we teach a business ethics course using ‘Atlas Shrugged,’” Dr. Parnell said. “BB&T is very flexible about how this is accomplished, and all universities do something different.”
The novel is based on Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, which proposes that man’s highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness and that people have no moral duty to help one another. “Atlas Shrugged” offers controversial philosophies on life, government, economics and the environment, promoting “laissez-faire” capitalism that is not restrained by government regulation.
“The course includes a critical assessment of capitalism and other economic systems, including the morality of these systems,” Dr. Parnell explained. “Evaluation of viewpoints on some topics run counter to conventional wisdom, so there is lots of debate.”